Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stream of consciousness heralding the end of my third exam

It’s fifteen minutes before the end of my criminal law final.  It started at 12:31, and it’s a four-hour exam, ending at 4:31.  I finished typing around 3:15 and looked over my exam for 15 more minutes, editing a few things and changing little things here and there, but I’ve basically been done for nearly an hour.  I don’t know if that means I didn’t get many of the issues on the exam or if I didn’t write enough, but I feel like I covered the main points.  Maybe Shae is right – I’m a freak, Cylon, too efficient.  I don’t know.  But it’s interesting watching everyone else.  People seem pretty calm and collected, what I would expect from a group of this caliber.  Pretty much everyone is still going at it furiously, though, so I don’t know what to make of my finishing early.

Three exams down, one to go!  Contracts is going to be more painful than torts and crim in some ways, but it’s only three hours long, and I can’t do better than my best whatever happens, so it’s probably best not to worry about it.  I’ll spend most of the day tomorrow and Friday morning studying, but I don’t know that I’m incredibly motivated to pull out an H in that class.  If only I knew what grades I was going to get on my first exams so I could calibrate my effort accordingly.

I’m excited to go home!  I haven’t been home in a long time; that is, last winter break was more of an adventuresome vacation and less about family time, and last summer I only spent a few weeks with my family, most of it at a beach house with our extended family.  It will be really nice to spend some quality time with just Mom and Dad and Joseph and Rachel.  Andrew has been gone for a long time; it’ll be really nice when he’s part of the family again, even if we are all over the place.  I should probably work on my family relationships more than I do; think of good Christmas gifts for Joseph and Rachel, talk to them more often, make their happiness a priority.

What should I do in Beijing?  I’m probably not going to get any interview offers from law firms before I leave on Saturday, unfortunately, so that complicates things.  Of course Sunday evening I’ll make sure Leah and Josef have arranged dinner with whoever’s there.  So the real question is what to do on Monday and Tuesday morning.  I could email Liang Shuo and see if he wants to do lunch one of those days.  Or Li Xiao Ping, if he’s still in Beijing.  That would be nice.  I can go see the Temple of Heaven, since I don’t think I’ve been.  Although it will be cold.  Remember to pack a coat.  Shopping!  What to buy?  If I see anything cool in the silk market I think Joseph or Rachel would like, I could buy that.  Get Shae some silk pajamas.  Another pair for myself – if they have any in red.  A painting for Jenn, if there are small ones that aren’t too expensive.  Actually, maybe I should wait until Vietnam for that – I bet there are good, small, cheap paintings on sale all over the place there.  Whatever happened to the painting(s?) I bought in Cambodia?  Did I buy any?  I can’t remember.  I could also get 30 little things for my section mates.  Not sure what, but something.  And professors?  Huh.  Think about that one some more.

Things to remember to pack: all of the Christmas presents, swimsuit, cheese/salami/nuts, warm clothing for the three days in Beijing (one coat, which you can wear on the plane, long pants, thick socks, gloves/scarf/hat?).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Random reflections

A word about blogs/journaling: I have never been a good journal-keeper.  Even on my mission, with a rigid daily schedule, I only managed to write in my journal maybe a quarter of the time, and the rest of my life it has been much sparser.  I think it's a systemic problem I have with motivation to stay on a schedule.  Every few months, I set goals.  When to wake up, go to bed, do my schoolwork, exercise, etc etc.  And within a few days, invariably I begin making exceptions and it falls apart.  I have enough internal motivation to get things done and be productive despite this shortcoming, but, apart from maybe my mission, I have never yet had a consistent way of accomplishing tasks in my life and sticking to a goal.  I tend to do things in bursts, and often this results in wasting time that I haven't planned carefully.  Something I should work on.

And now back to regularly scheduled programming: I love Stanford!  I really feel at home here, and my small section is really tight-knit.  I'm glad I still have a couple classes with them next quarter.  We've had several social functions, and last week we had t-shirts made with all our names on them, which we proudly wore to school on Wednesday.  Everyone here is incredibly smart; it's very liberating to be able to talk about anything and know that people will understand and be able to hold an intelligent conversation on the subject.

It is slightly repressive ideologically, but nowhere near as much as I thought it would be.  Being more conservative than liberal, I'm probably more conservative than 75% of the law students, but there's generally good discussion and everyone respects the viewpoints of others.  My professors are by and large all fairly liberal ("socially progressive"), but they don't generally let that influence the way they teach.

I also love being here because of the incredible natural beauty.  I went hiking in Big Basin Redwood State Park on Saturday, and it was lovely, not least because of the sun and warmth at the beginning of November!  I'm heading to Utah for Thanksgiving, and while it will be nice to see family and friends, and it will be fun to see real snow for the first time in nearly two years, I won't miss it when I come back.  Truly the Bay Area is a little corner of paradise.

I now turn my attention to finals, which end December 14th.  A month from today, but it feels so much closer.

Monday, September 24, 2012

3 weeks...

School started 3 weeks ago!  I can't believe it's been that long - it's gone by in a flash.  I suppose that's a good thing.  It's late, so here's a bulleted list for now:

  • 18 credit hours (we're only allowed to take 14 max every other quarter), 5 classes, boatloads of reading every day, mostly of judicial opinions and weighty legal doctrine
  • Great professors!  I think my small section lucked out - I love every one of my professors, and a couple of them are superstars in their fields, wrote the book, etc
  • Intense classes - a lot of Socratic method, professors calling on students and expecting them to know every last detail about each case and its legal significance
  • Good small section - there are 30 of us, and we have every class together, sometimes in combination with another small section; we had a pool party last week, and all the people in my section are incredibly smart and fun to be around
  • 4 other Mormons in my year - a pretty decent number when there are only 180 of us!  I've made good friends with one of them, a guy named Shae whose wife is still at BYU until December.
  • SoBar Review - every Thursday, hosted at my apartment for those who don't want to go to Bar Review (where the whole law school gets wasted every Thursday night) - we play party games and eat treats (cookies, banana muffins, zucchini bread all made by me)
Class is stressful at times, but it's really not too bad, and once I survive this quarter, it's downhill from there!  I don't know when I'll find the time to write blog posts; maybe I'll just do a highlights reel once in a while.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Of keg parties and new accommodations...

This week has been very long.  Don't get me wrong; it's been a great week, but it has been full of new people and places.  It almost feels like I'm back in the MTC - for those of you who've experienced it, remember the first four days or so?  How each day felt like two, and when Sunday rolled around you couldn't believe it hadn't been a month?

On Monday, I moved into my new apartment in the Munger Graduate Residences on Stanford campus.  These apartments are incredibly nice and only a year old, and the scale is almost megalomanic.  The doors are all ten feet tall and there's so much space in the bathrooms we joke that there's no doubt about their handicap accessibility.  I have my own private room in a four-person apartment, and all the rooms have private baths as well.  My room is in the corner of the building - it has sloping roofs (funny enough, just like my room a year ago in Nanjing) and lots more floor space than the other three, although it curves around and is very nookish.  But I like it quite a bit.

My roommates are Sam, Tom, and Jake.  Sam is from Salt Lake City and went to Georgetown for his undergrad; Tom is a Michigander and went to school in Maine; and Jake is from New York and went to NYU.  They're all pretty fun guys, especially with a couple beers in them. :) I attended my first keg party ever this week, along with sloshball before the football game and a party last night which featured whiskey and beer!  Probably more alcohol exposure in a week than the rest of my life combined.  A word to the wise: keg parties (or this one, at least) are hot, loud, and extremely dull without a few drinks in you.  I only stayed for 20 minutes.  Not everyone knows I don't drink yet, but my roommates do, at least.  They'll have a glass of wine or a beer in the apartment, but so far we haven't had any wild parties here, and I'm glad of that.

Orientation was good - I think I got the luck of the draw when it comes to professors, and I feel fairly comfortable getting around the law school already.  The new dean seems very competent and personable, and I feel much more excited about my next three years here after orientation.

Free food is ubiquitous; it sounds like there are catered lunch events nearly every day of the week, and I will definitely be taking advantage of them!

The weather is amazing.  It was a bit cold on Friday, but other than that it has been cloudless and warm.  I went running on Friday night after the football game, and it was the perfect temperature for running.  Speaking of football, it's amazing to me that Stanford gives free tickets to all students and there's an actual student section!  So much nicer than the system at BYU.  We only won the game by 3 points, but it was still fun, especially going with two friends who had never been to a game, Shae (also a 1L, member of the church) and Coco (exchange student from Germany).

This weekend: went to the food bank with about 65 other 1Ls yesterday to volunteer, and today was church.  I played the organ.  I hope that's not my calling, or at least not my only calling.  It probably will be, but I guess I don't mind that much.  It would just be nice to do something different as well.

Classes start Tuesday, and I have a lot of reading to do beforehand, so this is it for now.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beginnings and endings

Today is the end of my life.  But also the beginning.  I feel at once as if my life has no content, but at the same time it is brim with latent happiness and friendships waiting to happen.

I've been in the Palo Alto area for a week and a half now, staying with John and Trudy (John is my mom's older brother; they live in Redwood City), and it has been great.  Let's do the bullet point thing again:

  • I graduated from BYU two weeks ago yesterday.  I didn't attend the commencement in the Marriott Center, but I did attend my college convocation in the HFAC and walked across the stage to get my diploma cover!  It was a wonderful service, and seeing people I hadn't expected to see again was a nice bonus.  Grandma Ann and Wayne, my aunt Christa and some of her kids, and Paul and Rose and their kids were in town.
  • The Sunday after that, Daniel gave his missionary farewell address up in our old ward in Sandy.  He did an excellent job, and it amazed me how much that neighborhood always feels like home, even after not having lived there for seven years.  It was touching how many people still remember and love my family and how pleased they were to see Daniel going on a mission.
  • On Tuesday, Eve and I took Daniel to the MTC.  He was equal parts nervous and excited, and we didn't spend too long saying goodbye.  Right afterward, we snuck into the MTC by a back door and went to the copy center (where Eve works) to write Daniel letters and put them in his box.
  • Immediately after that, I left for California.  It took me from 2 pm to just after 1 am, with a stop for dinner and some construction slowdowns, so just about 12 hours.  I was falling asleep near the end, but I found another car who was going pretty fast to follow so I didn't have to think as much.  (moral: try finding other people to drive with from Utah to northern Cal)
  • I spent one day with Josef - he flew here when he was finished in China to visit his sister - we hiked in the Point Reyes National Seashore and drove along the coastal highway back towards San Francisco (stunning views, ridiculously windy road), and then we had dinner with Liu Laoshi, who was out here with her husband (he works in Sunnyvale), at a Thai restaurant.
  • Church, FHE, and Institute were all pretty good.  There aren't many people here yet, but I knew five people at church, each in a different way and from a different phase of my life, which was pretty cool.  The church is so small sometimes.
  • The weather here is perfect!  I've been out hiking, running, or to the beach nearly every day, and it is consistently incredible.
  • Went to the DMV yesterday and switched my Utah license for a California one, registering to vote at the same time.  I'm officially a Californian!
That's about it.  I can move into graduate housing on campus on Monday, and orientation begins Wednesday evening.  Hopefully I'll make friends with my roommates and others quickly; it's nice living here, but still pretty lonely.  I've been keeping up with friends fairly well, but it's different when you're not in the same place.  Hence my thoughts at the beginning of the post.  Looking forward to what Monday brings!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

August already

It seems that long trips are the perfect place to write blog posts; they’re where I’ve written most of mine over the last year.  In keeping with this habit, I’m sitting on a plane to Salt Lake writing this right now.

The last two weeks have been wonderful.  After I drove up to Utah from Los Angeles via Phoenix, I spent a few days there and then flew out to New York City to spend some time with Hannah and Brent and travel a bit.  Some things that happened:
  •  Went to the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra with Hannah and Brent
  • Biked all around New York on Brent’s bike
  • Visited Jaren in DC – saw the new MLK memorial, the International Spy Museum, and the Hirschhorn and African Art and Sackler galleries
  • Went with Jaren to Annapolis, saw the state house and drove over the Bay Bridge
  • Drove to Boston with Hannah and Brent – walked the Freedom Trail, ate good seafood, drove out to Plymouth Rock, visited Harvard and MIT
  • Spent half a day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, could have spent three days – it was incredible
  • Sat in the studio audience of the Colbert Report with Ryan Kelly; a (hilarious) highlight of the trip!
  • Saw Ryan Teynor (this trip was full of Ryans) for the first time since high school – he lives with his boyfriend and has been in New York for seven years – only gay person I know fairly well
  • Went to the 9/11 Memorial with Jaren and his family (they all came to town for a family trip)
  • Saw Porgy and Bess with Hannah and Brent; Audra McDonald played Bess, and it was a powerful, moving show
  • Went to the Clinton Street Bakery for breakfast and Chelsea Market to look around after that

It was a really nice trip; relaxing, didn’t see too much but stayed pretty busy, and I got to see people I hadn’t for a while and spend more time with Hannah and Brent.  I didn’t feel like Brent and I had much of a relationship before this, so this has been very good in that respect.  Now I’ve got a week and a half in Utah, and then I’m driving to California!  Everything’s going by so quickly…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Phoenix to Provo

I'm dead tired, but I would be remiss if I didn't write a post in gratitude for being alive after the longest solo drive I have done yet. Google maps said Phoenix to Provo would take 11 hours; I did it in 9. This was accomplished by generally going ten over and some competent passing, but I am very grateful to have been able to stay alert and aware all day. I got to spend the evening with Ben and Joel, which was nice as well.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I will update the blog with my whereabouts for the past month soon, but for now I'm restarting my series of daily (that's the intent, anyway) posts on things in my life for which I'm grateful. Driving back to Pasadena from USC with CT this afternoon (I know, you don't know who CT is; I promise I'll update soon), I put the address in my phone and it told me to get on the freeway and take the 110 north. However, as I got on, the entrance didn't allow me to get over before the freeway split, and I was forced to take a different freeway through the heart of LA, one that takes much longer due to traffic. A few miles later, however, I saw an exit with a temporary sign marking a detour to the 110 north. We followed it, and after a few blocks we were headed back to the 110 without having lost much time. I'm grateful for thoughtful traffic engineers who take the time to map out detour routes and lay out the signage. They saved me time and preserved my peace of mind today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You've had a birthday, shout hooray!

My birthday is this weekend!  Soon I will be a year older, and hopefully wiser too.  Here are some highlights from the last year:
  • Found out that I did super well on the LSAT, paving the way for applying to law school
  • Flew to Detroit to audition for membership in GCNA (guild of carillonneurs in north america); unfortunately, the jury was rigged (a touchy subject with me still, but it was a growing experience at least)
  • Finished my coursework at BYU by taking spring and summer classes, among them a math class after having had no math for five years
  • Packed up and said goodbye to Provo permanently, at least as a place to live
  • Went home to Malaysia, spent a few fun days in Thailand with Eve, Hudson, and Annie, back to Malaysia, and then to China!
  • Studied at Nanjing University for a semester with the Chinese Flagship program; had an awesome roommate from Dalian named Xin Qiang
  • Went on an epic trip to Chongqing, Chengdu, Dazu, and Mt. Emei over National Week; slept in an airport, on a bus, on a monastery floor, in a hostel, and in a super-sweet hotel room (courtesy of Dad points)
  • Went to Harbin over Christmas with Seth, Maryia, and Ming Wen, Seth's roommate - nearly froze to death and spent Christmas Eve sleeping on a train!
  • Another incredible vacation: nearly a month for Chinese New Year spent taking Ben, Seth, Josef, Jonathan, and Lena around Bali, Malaysia, and Singapore - so many good times!
  • Moved to Beijing, worked in a law firm there for just over 3 months
  • Applied to law schools; visited Chicago and Stanford in whirlwind weekend trips and ultimately decided on Stanford
  • Moved to Shanghai via Nanjing and Suzhou to do a short internship here before heading home

I am so blessed!  When I list everything I've been able to experience in the last year, the hard times and annoyances pale in comparison.  Here's hoping this year will bring more happy memories.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Oh, Shanghai

Tomorrow I will have been in Shanghai for two weeks.  And two weeks from today I'm flying back to the United States!  What an adventure this year in China has been.  I'm glad I will have this fairly comprehensive (if spotty in consistency) record of my time here.

New developments in work: I've been busier at DLA than I was at LexField.  Lots of documents to edit, and I got to sit in on and help translate a bit of a training we hosted for some startup companies here.  Some of their business models were interesting, but for the most part they had absolutely no idea how to explain themselves or present their pitches.  I went in and out of the meetings, but from the snippets I caught I wasn't terribly impressed.

My longish-term project I'm doing for Kaichen is an analysis of what might happen to private/foreign investments in China if the government collapses or undergoes a radical transformation in the near future, based on similar events in Indonesia and other places.  I haven't done much research on it yet, but it's looking interesting so far.

Ben, Seth, Jonathan, Chandler, Sisi Messick and I went clothes shopping on Saturday.  But not just to the store.  No, sir.  We went to the fabric market and got fitted and picked out styles and buttons and sleeves and the whole shebang!  Sisi was our fashion coach.  We each got several dress shirts, long and short-sleeved, Ben and Chandler got suits, and Seth got a cashmere coat made, all at ridiculously cheap prices!  My long-sleeved shirts were 100 kuai (just over $15) and short-sleeved were 90 kuai.  The suits and coat were 500 kuai, or $80!  I really liked the cashmere coat, but I couldn't justify buying one, since I already have a winter coat and a peacoat and a trench coat, and I certainly won't need any of them very often at Stanford.  But still.  I spent just over $100 on 6 fitted dress shirts!  On our way out, we bought ties - silk ties for 8 kuai ($1.25) each!  Crazy.  Then we went to the pearl market and Seth and I bought some shorts and Ben bought some shoes, again for ridiculously cheap prices.  I'm glad Hannah and Brent are moving here next year - if I ever need any dress clothes, I'll make sure to have them buy them in Shanghai.

The Shanghai Branch is really good to the YSAs here - every Sunday a member has the whole group over for dinner after church.  Yesterday was at Sister Wang's house.  She's Taiwanese and married to a man who's not a member of the church, and they're both super nice.  There were 7 of us who went, and she had more than enough food for everyone; really good angel hair pasta, green curry with rice, salad, fresh whole grain bread with butter...and decadent chocolate cake for dessert!  Sooooooo good!  Her husband worked for Singapore Airlines in marketing for 30 years, and now he lives here and studies Mandarin while she works in interior design.  I'm so grateful for people like that who open up their homes and make young singles feel welcome and at home.

Ben left this morning for Hong Kong; I won't see him again until I maybe see him in July in Utah, depending on how my plans work out.  Everyone is going their separate ways in the next few weeks; Seth finished his internship on Thursday, and Chandler is done and traveling around already.  Joel and Jonathan finish this week, I think.  I'm glad to be so nearly done with the two-year endurance race this Flagship program has turned out to be, but I'm also a little nostalgic for all the good times we had together and everything I experienced over this two years.  If I had to do it over again, I think I would choose to come, despite (maybe because of?) the hard times, because of the friends I've made and the things I've learned about China and about myself.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life in Shanghai

I love Shanghai!

I'm sure there will be things I don't like about it eventually, but for now it's great.  Ben and Seth rent a room in a house in a cool section of town with little alleys and shops and tree-lined residential streets.  Quite the opposite of our apartment in Beijing, which was off a main street with lots of big buildings everywhere and a lot of traffic.  It's been cloudy/rainy since I got here, which can get depressing after a while, I guess, but I love the rain and had far too little of it in Beijing, so that's another plus!

With the air mattress I brought, more than half the floor space is taken up by beds now.  We have a small table in the corner and a closet and a TV, but the rest of the apartment is mattresses and bedding.  Still nowhere near as crowded as a Chinese dorm room, but we can pretend we're living in cramped squalor. :)

My commute to work is about 45 minutes - 6 stops on the subway and a good walk on either end.  I work in the Shanghai World Financial Center, the second-tallest building IN THE WORLD!!!  We're on the 36th floor, which is very cool, even though I don't have a window in my office.

So I'm working for DLA Piper for 3.5 weeks.  They're an international law firm and the largest firm in the world, with thousands of attorneys and over 70 offices in over 30 countries.  They mostly do corporate/transactional work.  I've been helping do a little research and some editing over the past few days, and my main project is coming up with a framework for understanding the changes that will happen to foreign-owned property and businesses if the Chinese government were to collapse or be radically altered in some way.  Kind of cool!

This is a super nice building.  The toilets are the Japanese kind with a multitude of buttons, water jets, seat warmers, etc etc.  Our one conference room has glass walls that can be turned opaque at the flip of a switch.  My computer monitor is huge, and the internet is lightning fast and has a built-in VPN, so it's basically like being back in the States (or heaven, take your pick)!

I get off at 6:30.  Commuting is pretty painless here, even at rush hour.  It can be crowded, but the escalators and everything else move pretty quickly.  Very efficient.  Ben and Seth tend to get home fairly late, Seth later than Ben, so unlike in Beijing where we would hang out with people most weeknights, here they only do things on the weekends.  That might get monotonous after a while, but since I'm only here for 3.5 weeks anyway, I don't think I'll mind.  I probably won't try to get to know the branch/YSA very well in any case.

Food is really expensive here.  Maybe about the same as Beijing, but there are way more foreign restaurants that charge exorbitant prices, so it seems more expensive.  Especially where I work - there are no cheap places to eat around here, so it's pay up or starve.

Trip to Shanghai

Well, now that I've covered much of my time in Beijing, it's time to wrap up this catch-up series...

Last Sunday, the day after the marathon, I still had legs!  Which was a good thing, as I needed them to get to church and back and start packing.  I didn't leave myself much time to say goodbyes to people, but I like that sometimes - goodbyes can be draining.  Besides, I'll be back in Beijing for a couple days in June before I leave.  So I got home from church and frantically packed my bags.  I left my large suitcase there for Joel to deal with, and I gave Ben a duffel bag with clothes in it to bring to Shanghai for me, and then all I had was my small suitcase, an IKEA bag stuffed with my air mattress, comforter, and pillows, and my backpack.  Ben and I headed for the Beijing South Station, and we caught our respective bullet trains south, which left within 5 minutes of each other.

I arrived in Nanjing around 8:30, met Chandler and went back to his apartment.  We stayed up talking until around 2 am, even though I should have been exhausted from walking around and dragging luggage a day after finishing a marathon.  I woke up around 7:30, though, and I wasn't terribly tired.  We got breakfast and then headed to school.  Chen Laoshi and Dong Laoshi and Hong Xia were in the office, so we talked to them for a while, which was nice.  Chen Laoshi is one of the funniest men alive; he's obsessed with Nanjing history and the Utah Jazz and BYU, and he's always great to talk to.

After that, we got lunch with Xin Qiang (who had changed his name to Vincent!), Maryia, Jason, and two of Xin Qiang's friends.  Chandler had called Xin Qiang that morning and arranged for lunch, saying 中午见, but Xin Qiang heard 周五见 and thought we were having lunch at 11 on Friday!  But we ran into him randomly anyway.  Miracles never cease.

After that, I headed back and went to the train station to catch my train to Suzhou.  It's a very short trip on the bullet train from Nanjing to Suzhou, but it was pleasant.  The weather on Monday and Tuesday was fantastic - not hot, light breeze, sunny.  I took a taxi to Jonathan's office and went up to grab his apartment keys from him, dropped my stuff off, showered, and then Jonathan, Sisi, some other YSA's in the branch and I went out to an Italian place for dinner and then to a member's house for games.  He manufactures board games, so he knows most games intimately and owns plenty of them.  Jonathan, a guy named Ben, and I played a game called Power Grid, kind of like Ticket to Ride except you're building networks of power plants and lines.  I won - Jonathan was put out, but there was no helping it.  They had a large living room with a baby grand piano in it (that's where they hold church in Suzhou), so I played some Beethoven and Rhapsody in Blue on their piano afterwards.  It was a pretty terrible piano, but at least it was mostly in tune.

The next day, I went to 虎丘 in the morning, probably the most famous sight in Suzhou.  It's an old hill with all kinds of ancient buildings and historical sites on it, including tall brick pagoda over 1000 years old.  It leans to one side, so it's off limits to climb.  I was really tired after that, so I headed back to Jonathan's to take a nap.  Then Zach, Jonathan, Sisi, Ben (new guy I met in Suzhou, not Ben Hansen) and I had lunch at a Mexican place, which was great.  After that, I had another nap (soooo tired...) and then caught my train to Shanghai.

I got to Shanghai around 5 and then took the subway to Ben and Seth's stop.  Once there, I borrowed someone's phone to call them (my sim card broke Sunday morning, so I had been without a phone for two days - I borrowed phones 6 or 7 times in total); Seth didn't answer, but Ben did.  However, he was still at work.  He tried to get a hold of Seth, but Seth continued not to answer (turns out his phone was broken as well).  So I hung around the subway station and got dinner and waited for Ben, who showed up an hour and a half later.  I made myself at home at their place and started work on Wednesday!

And thus ends the story of the Sojourn to Shanghai.

Keeping in Touch

A few weeks before I left Beijing, I had the feeling that I should email my former investigators/recent converts that I knew were living in China to see what was happening with them.  I emailed a whole bunch of them.  Two of them emailed me back right away, 李小平 and George Wang.

I taught 李小平 for nearly 9 months on my mission.  He would come to church most of the time, but he was mostly interested in learning English, not in really finding a set of beliefs.  However, we had a good relationship.  He emailed me back right away and said he was working in Beijing at a hospital and wanted to see me, so we set up a time and I met him at his hospital on a holiday and we had lunch and went to an antiques market.  We had a great conversation; he's been in Beijing for nearly a year doing research while his wife and daughter are in Changsha.  He works 6, sometimes 7 days a week and long hours and rarely gets out, and it doesn't seem like he has many friends; he was really glad to see me.  He insisted on paying for lunch.  He also asked where the church was in Beijing and sounded serious about going again.  I'm still not sure if he's allowed to attend, but I will find out and let him know.  Just before I left Beijing, he gave me a piece of framed embroidered silk art.

George and his wife Karena were baptized in my last area, Hamilton, Ontario.  They are from Wuhan.  As I emailed George, he was Skyping with my friend Weston Packard, another elder from my mission who baptized Karena just before we opened the Chinese area and taught and baptized George.  It turns out Weston was coming to China for a week!  So a week before the marathon, Weston stayed at my apartment in Beijing for a few nights and we went touring - the wall, the Forbidden City, Jingshan park, hutongs, food, the summer palace, etc etc.  It was a blast.  I had been too busy/not interested enough to do anything touristy for the 2-3 months before that, so it was a perfect incentive to get out and see things.  After that, Weston flew to Wuhan and George gave him the royal treatment there, taking him all around, feeding him, and introducing him to his family and friends.  Weston doesn't speak Chinese, so it was all very funny.  Weston came back on Thursday and left Friday morning, just as Seth and Ben were getting in for the marathon.  I need to go see George in Wuhan one of these weekends; either the 1st or the 8th of June.  But really, there are no coincidences.  Just as I felt like emailing contacts from my mission, George was Skyping with Weston, and I had no idea Weston was even coming to Beijing two weeks after that.  Little miracles.


Here's a few tidbits on church while I was in Beijing:

  • I had two callings, as a branch missionary and a translator.  Joel and I would translate for sacrament meetings and for district conference - I consistently feel that my Chinese isn't good enough to translate, but it always seemed go okay, if not great.  I didn't translate as often as Joel, because I was gone several times and had to play the piano a few times as well.  But I enjoyed it, particularly translating testimonies because it feels like you're sharing your own testimony as you translate.
  • As a branch missionary, I was involved in teaching Leah Pickering, a friend from England, Armene Gasagara, an awesome 17-year-old guy from Rwanda, and a few other people, both the missionary lessons and in gospel principles.  It really helped me to feel the spirit of missionary work again, and I am determined to be a lifelong missionary wherever I am.  Armene just set a baptismal goal for June 15th last week, and I really hope Leah gets baptized soon, because she will be a marvelous member of the church!
  • I sang in the Easter program - the branch choir put on "The Garden", an oratorio by Michael McLean that is an allegory of the Plan of Salvation and the Atonement.  I was the ram in the thicket, and the music was fairly challenging for our little choir, but we put it together well.  It was a bit Broadway for a sacrament service, but I think it was a nice change for people, and it felt good to present something as a gift of sacrifice (several hours-long practices on Saturdays) and love.  I have a recording of it I made on my iPad - not the best quality, but something.
  • Institute every week at the Stratford's house was a delight.  The lessons were always insightful and made me think harder about my commitment to and understanding of the gospel.  Clara Stratford got to Beijing about a month ago, and she had us all play Just Dance on her Xbox one week, which was hilariously funny!  I will miss institute at the Stratford's house.


Seth, Ben and I signed up for the Great Wall Marathon at the end of February.  They had both run marathons before, and I hadn't, but I thought it sounded like a good goal and something to work for while I was in Beijing.  It ended up taking a lot of time and effort, but it was worth it in many ways.

It cost almost $300, steep for a marathon, but that was only more incentive to train and make sure the experience was worth what I paid for it.  Starting in early March, I began running about 3 times a week.  I downloaded an iPhone app, RunKeeper, that kept track of my location and speed and told me whether I was ahead or behind of my target pace, and I mostly used that when I ran.  I started slowly, only running 5-10 kilometers, but after a few weeks I was ready for longer runs.  I would always run on the roads, generally at night after work, often going north past Josef's apartment along line 5 of the subway so I could take it back if I got tired/twisted my ankle or something.  I got over my dislike of running, and although I didn't always love it, I became very good at making myself go, even at 9:30 pm after a long day.

I did stairs a couple times before the marathon to get ready for the wall.  I would go to an intersection by my house and run up and down and around the four-way circular overpass over the intersection.  Some people really got a kick out of watching me run stairs and around and around the overpass!

I only did a few long runs before the marathon itself - a few half marathons and then a 20-mile run two weeks beforehand.  On a few of my long runs, I developed blisters on my feet, right on the arch.  I don't really have an arch, and my feet are pretty flat, so my feet were rebelling against the constant pounding they were getting.  But by the race I had gotten pretty thick calluses on both of my feet and felt like it wouldn't be a problem.

Race day was Saturday, May 19th.  Seth and Ben took a night train from Shanghai Thursday night and arrived at 8 Friday morning.  Thursday was my last day of work in Beijing, so Seth, Ben, Joel and I hung out in Beijing on Friday; we got lunch at a great Greek restaurant with a buffet lunch, and Seth tried to apply for a Kazakh visa to go in July while Ben and I went shopping and saw Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden City.  We tried to get to bed early, and succeeded after watching a comedy skit that had us in tears!

2:30 am came way too early.  We left at 2:45 for the hotel parking lot where the bus would take us to the race.  The buses left at 3:30 and took until just before 6 to get to the section of the Great Wall outside of Tianjin where the race was held.  Then we still had an hour and a half to wait before the race started.  It was kind of chilly, so we sat there in the cold hating the organizers of the race for a good 45 minutes.  They started some aerobic exercises and stretches, which none of us really participated in.  There were about 2500 people there, running and watching runners for the marathon, 1/2 marathon, 10k and 5k, from over 100 different countries.  It was an interesting sight.

Seth and Ben were in the first starting corral for the marathon, so after a few speeches by county leaders and other luminaries (requisite at nearly every official and semi-official occasion in China), the gun went off at 7:31!  I waited 5 minutes for the second group to start and began the race.  I didn't think I would see either Seth or Ben along the course, since they're both good runners and had run marathons before, but I was hoping to still get a good time.  Ha ha ha!

The first 5 kilometers was a steep uphill slope, winding up a mountainside.  I was grateful for the cool air as we started running, and I kept a pretty good pace, passing some people and getting passed by the career marathoners with all their equipment and packets of energy gel attached around their waists.  After we reached the top of the mountain, we started the wall portion, which went for just over 3 kilometers.  If you've never been to the Great Wall before, it's intense.  The steps are irregular and there are sections with shorter steps and then sections of steep staircases with steps over a foot in height.  It slants at times, and occasionally there's only room for one person at a time with a steep drop to one side.  Nearly everyone walked the wall - running it only invites busted knees for the rest of the race.  But apart from the occasional traffic jam, I felt good.  The very end was a series of steep staircases going down to the valley floor to continue the race.

Following that, it was mostly flat for a good 10-12 kilometers.  I kept running, but around kilometer 17 or so I started getting a blister on my right foot, and it kept getting bigger and more painful.  I was really annoyed with my foot, especially since the blister was right where I had a thick callus.  I kept running until kilometer 20 or so and then started alternating a bit of walking with some running.  At that point, I thought I would finish at least an hour behind Seth and Ben, but I was determined to keep going, come what may.

There were water stations and places with bananas and sports drinks every few kilometers along the course - I probably drank a third of 20 water bottles, pouring the rest of it over myself and throwing the bottle into a basket or on the side of the road.  There were old ladies and men with scooters going along all day picking up water bottles and trash.  There were also a lot of kids on the course, particularly as it went through little mountain villages.  I high-fived at least 100 kids as I ran, which was fun but may well explain why I've been feeling a bit sick this week.

At one of the stations at kilometer 26, I came across Seth, sitting down at the side of the course.  I was so focused I would have passed him without seeing him if he hadn't yelled my name as I ran by.  I stopped for a bit, and he explained that his stomach had been hurting since the first wall portion, and he could only run for a bit, then walk, and stop to recuperate before running again.  We walked together for a kilometer or so and then ran until about kilometer 30 on dirt roads with lots of little rocks.  Perfect place to sprain an ankle.  Seth had to stop again after that, so I pressed on.  My blister still hurt, and it was filling with fluid and squishing unpleasantly, but it was bearable, and I kept up a light jog.

Around kilometer 34, the course went through the finish line and then retraced the wall portion backwards.  This meant that we had to first hike that huge flight of stairs going straight up the mountain before tackling the rest of the wall.  I thought to myself how perfect it was that they put the final wall section right where most runners hit the wall anyway.  By the time I got up those stairs, my legs were jelly and I had no energy left.  The entire wall section was very painful - I kept stopping to rest and then made myself get up and keep going.  Everyone around me was doing it, too - I lost track of how many times I would pass the same people only to have them pass me a minute later and then pass them again with a brief burst of energy.

Near the end of the wall section, I found Ben, sitting halfway up a staircase in a daze.  He didn't even recognize/look at me until I said hi.  I was very surprised to see him - Seth and I thought he was way ahead of us, but here he was on the wall.  His legs had been cramping up starting just before halfway through the race, and it got especially bad on the wall.  He could only climb 20 steps before stopping to rest, and he had a medic massage them for about 20 minutes before I got there.  I didn't want to stop for too long, though, so I wished him good luck and carried on.

After the wall, the last 5 kilometers going down the mountain road were comparative bliss.  I was near the end of my endurance, but gravity helped me totter down.  I got to kilometer 41 at the base of the mountain and started running for the finish.  I slowed to a walk before kilometer 42, but a woman I had passed while running came jogging up and so I ran with her to the finish.  I finished in just under 6.5 hours, and it was a glorious feeling!  Just to emphasize how brutal the wall was: I ran the 35 kilometers before the second wall section in just over 4.5 hours.  The wall took almost 2 hours the second time.

Seth wasn't there - I didn't know whether to expect him to finish the race or whether he would just stop there at the 34 kilometer mark.  They closed the wall before the rest of the course to ensure that everyone would finish and no one was left stranded up there.  But 15 minutes after I came in, Ben finished, and Seth came running in 15 minutes after Ben.  We all finished!  I was very surprised to have finished first, considering I had never done a marathon before, but then again this marathon was totally unlike any other.  And apparently I had trained much more than Seth and Ben, and that helped a lot.

After the Great Wall Marathon, I think any other marathon will be a piece of cake. :)

Suzhou trip

Right after I got back from Chicago, I decided it would be fun to meet Jonathan, Chandler, Seth and Ben in Nanjing for the weekend.  I also had Easter candy and some other things I had bought in America for all of them.  However, Jonathan had some things scheduled in Suzhou for Sunday, so we ended up deciding to go to Suzhou instead.  So I bought a sleeper car ticket for Friday and a bullet train back on Sunday, and everything seemed perfect, until...

...I remembered that I had completely spaced a meeting with Doug Hughes (the Nanjing Flagship internship coordinator) and Linda Larsen (flying in from America to discuss our internships) in Beijing on Sunday!  So lame.  So, although everyone else thought I should just ditch the meeting, I switched my bullet train ticket to Saturday evening.

I took the night train down from Beijing.  That was remarkably good - I got several hours of sleep until we got to Nanjing, since I was on a soft seat that was actually a sleeper and there were only two of us sitting on it, so I could lie down.  I got to Suzhou sometime before 8 in the morning and headed to Jonathan's apartment.  There I met Chandler and Jonathan, and we headed out to a football activity with the Suzhou branch.  I only had a pair of jeans and a polo with me, so Chandler and I decided to walk around the lake instead of playing football, and we had a good conversation.  Chandler got into Harvard's philosophy Ph.D. program, by the way, and he's great to talk with.  Very funny, too.

Then Seth and Ben showed up, and we went back out by the lake and flew kites for a bit.  We also got lunch at an Italian place.  Suzhou is a really nice city.  It's nearly all newly built, and it has beautiful waterways and gardens and parks and very efficient transit.  After lunch, we went over to old Suzhou, where we took a gondola ride and saw traditional old houses.  Ben was doing some poses on the front of the boat with a rope tied to the front, and he fell in the canal!  It was about the hardest I've laughed for a year.  He jumped back on the boat right away, but he was completely soaked, and the water was pretty filthy too.  Jonathan got the whole thing on his phone in a series of pictures that tell the story way better than I can...after that, we headed for TGI Friday's.  Ben stopped at a clothing store to try on a shirt, but the lady tried to rip him off so he tore it off and stomped outside shirtless.  His phone recovered the next day, but he also got pretty sick for a day or so and threw up several times.

And then my crazy trip came to an abrupt end.  Everyone else went to TGI Friday's, and I had to get a cab to the train station to leave, after only 8 or 9 hours in Suzhou.  They tried to call Doug and persuade him to let me call in to the meeting instead, and Seth threatened to tie me up, but all to no avail, so I went and got on my train and headed back to Beijing.

I was glad I got to go and see my friends after a few months of being apart, but it would have been nice to spend more time in Suzhou than I did on my two trains! :P

Law School - Trips and Decision (2)

...just kidding, I decided to break it up.  These things get so unwieldy otherwise.

I got back to Beijing, and I spent a couple days thinking and praying about my choices between Chicago and Stanford.  Harvard was basically out, mostly because their bureaucratic ways didn't appeal to me, and I thought a smaller class size would serve me better than a larger one.  So it was down to Chicago and Stanford.  I couldn't wait much longer, because Chicago's deadline was the 15th of April, I think, which was a week before I would have the chance to see Stanford.

That Monday I made the decision, and I've stuck with it.  I still don't know exactly why, but I felt really good about Stanford.  It was a load off my mind - I felt almost giddy all the rest of that day with happiness and relief that I was done deciding.  Over the next few weeks, I rejected all the other schools I was admitted to except for Harvard, which I kept as a backup in case the ASW at Stanford turned out to be disappointing.

It was not.  I flew out on the very same United flight to SFO that I had flown to go to Chicago, leaving Beijing at noon on Friday and arriving at 8 the same morning in San Francisco.  I spent a few hours walking around downtown SF and buying Ghirardelli (of course) before heading down to Palo Alto on the Caltrain.  It was perfect weather the three days I was there - I don't think I saw a single cloud the entire time!  People were complaining about it being hot, but I think it only got up to 85 or something.  Usually it's consistently in the 70's.

Every event I went to was great, and I was sold on the school due to many factors, one being the larger Chinese presence than at Chicago, but the biggest deciding factor was something else.  I'm still not sure I want to work at a big firm for life, and Stanford is so supportive of crafting your own career path and finding your passion.  30-40% of your classes can be at the business school or in economics or engineering or some other field, and that allows for flexibility and a wider range of application.  I find that so much more appealing than Chicago, where taking classes outside of the law school was rare and mostly for academic reasons rather than to enhance career options.  Also, the ward was great!  After the first hour, there were about 10 people who welcomed me into the ward during a special new member Sunday school class, and I felt right at home.  I saw a friend from junior high school, Cliff Crosland, and he'll be there next year, so that was nice too.  Ultimately, I felt completely comfortable and at home at Stanford, whereas I had been slightly on edge during my trip to Chicago.  Most of the LDS law students are married, but there were still a good number, and I enjoyed meeting them all.  I stayed with a young married couple my first two nights there - he's at law school and she's a full-time mother, and they have the cutest little girl.  It was my first real interaction with a little kid in a while, and it made me happy.  She would ask when I was coming home at night, and I don't doubt we'll be the best of friends in the fall.

I got to see John and Trudy, my mom's older brother and his wife who live in Redwood City.  I stayed with them Sunday night, and I'm really happy I'll get to go to school so close to them and see them more often.  Their family is great - he inherited a few of my grandpa's interesting quirks, but they are fantastic people and having family close is always a good thing.

So at this point I've made my decision - Stanford 2015!

Law School - Trips and Decision

Man, that title means I'm going to cover a lot of ground in this post.  So be it.

Last I wrote, I had just had my interview with Harvard, I think.  So, fast forward a bit.  Chicago offered me a large scholarship ($35,000/year), so my parents decided I should fly out and consider it at least.  I flew out at the end of March for their admitted students' weekend and stayed with my friend Benjamin Brown, who is just finishing up his first year there.

The trip itself was very eventful.  Here is a journal/blog entry I wrote about my flights:

"I'll sit here and go crazy if I don't get some of this out.  I got to the Beijing airport with plenty of time - as I thought - to make my plane to Detroit.  It wasn't leaving for 45 minutes when I walked up to the Delta counter and tried to check in.  Unfortunately, their system apparently closes an hour before takeoff, and they are helpless in the face of their own technology.  No was they could possibly check me in or let me on the plane that wasn't leaving for 45 minutes!  Their only help was to tell me to call a hotline that doesn't open until 8 am.

Having been here for a while, not much about China can bother me anymore, but this makes me want to weep with rage.  At any other airport, the person at the counter would whisk me to the desk and check me in, then make sure I got to the gate as fast as possible.  Here I have to wait an hour and a half to call a customer service line to change my ticket.  It's more China than Delta, although at the moment I'm very angry at Delta as well, and I plan to tell them in choice fashion.

Frustrated beyond all belief.

I just talked to a Delta rep, and she told me I would have to pay over $1000 extra(!) if I want to keep my return ticket.  See if I fly Delta anytime soon!  And the earliest flight she could find for me was tomorrow morning.  More rage...

Wrong kind of adrenaline rush, for sure.  Well, I ended up buying a ticket on United with Mom & Dad's credit card...I owe them a lot.  I had to take the bus to the other terminal and as I was buying the ticket on my phone, the website conked out.  I went to a United agent here, but th echeapest she could find was over $1500, way more expensive than the one I found.  So I got a wifi password at a kiosk and bought it on my computer for $1284, then checked in.  Now I'm waiting for some pad thai before I go through security.  Probably a poor choice, because now I'm worried it'll take twenty minutes to come and I'll be rushed for time again and waste a second ticket.  Not going to happen, but that would be truly awful.

Oh boy.  So I made it to San Francisco, only to find out my flight to Chicago was delayed from 10:32 to noon.  I went to customer service right away and got on the standby list, and I just made it on a flight leaving at 10:10.  I'm either the very last person or the second to last to get on the plane.  Phew.  Except I had to pay a $75 standby fee...this trip is getting more and more expensive.

I'm waiting for my plane to Newark now...this trip has been great!  I really like UChicago, and it's moved way up in my estimation.  I don't know what I'll decide, but whatever happens, it was worth the trip.  The flight story even has a mostly happy ending!  Delta refunded my original ticket!  As I told them, that goes a long way towards making me happy with their service.  I ended up spending $500 more than I would have, but better than $1300 more."

I didn't write about how United lost my luggage once I actually got to Chicago and took over a day to get it to me at Ben's apartment.  It was truly one of the most awful air travel experiences I've ever had.  But I really did enjoy the trip.  I'd never been to Chicago - I went downtown the morning after I arrived, and it was beautiful.  Nice spring weather, gorgeous architecture, a fantastic art museum, and great open spaces.  The school itself was also great.  All the professors seemed really involved in their students' lives, the campus was all big Gothic and modern architecture, and living costs were fairly low.  Except for the fairly lackluster YSA and frigid winters, it seemed like a wonderful place to go to law school...

Work and a Day in Court

Ok, here's the rest of the story on my job in Beijing.  My work went about the same as it had for the first several weeks.  I gave a couple English trainings, edited documents, translated emails and notifications and lists of evidence, and generally spent half my time surfing the Internet and the other half being a super efficient/effective translator and editor.  I eventually got to be pretty good friends with one guy who sat next to me, Michael Liang (梁硕), and we went to lunch together most days.

One experience in particular was kind of cool.  I asked 易律师 if I could attend a court case before I left, so a few weeks ago she helped me apply for and attend a case at the Beijing High People's Court.  It was a trademark violation  retrial case where we were representing a Hong Kong-based manufacturer against a mainland company that had basically copied their goods.  It took a few hours in the afternoon; I headed to the court early and waited around for the lunch break to be over.  The building itself was huge and imposing, like nearly every public building in China.  I had to leave my phone outside in a locker, and then we all went into a smallish courtroom.  There were three judges sitting in front; a woman and two men flanking her.  Then there were 蒋律师 and 左律师 and our three clients from HK on our side and two lawyers and the defendant sitting on the other side.  The two partners from our firm had stacks and stacks of documents, and they were furiously highlighting and scribbling notes before the hearing started; the lawyers on the other side had a noticeable paucity of materials and didn't seem very enthusiastic.

It took about 2 hours - there were initial arguments and discussion and counterarguments and closing arguments and questions from the judge (the two men didn't say much; they were there for show, it seemed), and we completely dominated.  The other side tried to make a few procedural objections - something about the wrong person signing a petition document and another objection about new evidence - but it was halfhearted and they didn't have any substantial arguments.  It was ridiculously hot in the courtroom.  I followed the lead of one of our clients in taking my jacket off about halfway through the hearing, and I nearly fell asleep from the heat once or twice.  The content of the hearing wasn't terribly interesting to me, but it was gratifying to understand a good portion of what was going on, and that kept me engaged.

The second-to-last day on the job, the senior partners all took me to lunch at a nice restaurant in the building.  They made me sit in the seat of honor and order nearly everything and eat first, and none of them drank because I don't drink, so we got this sweet warm corn smoothie stuff that was surprisingly delicious.  The food was great, and conversation happened, but it was slightly forced and awkward.  Still, it was a nice gesture.  易律师 gave me some nice pens on my last day at work, and 梁硕 wants to keep in contact; I was very happy to be done with that internship, but I learned a lot, and I'm grateful for the experience.

3 months in the life of 龙年生子

Ok, it's time to repent!  I just got to my new internship yesterday, and the Internet is super fast and has a VPN already built in, so I have no excuse not to update my blog anymore.  Here goes.  This will be a series of vignettes on my time in Beijing/trips I went on/life update.

Friday, February 24, 2012

2.5 weeks in Beijing (2)

List continued...
  • My dad has been in town this week, so I got to spend some time with him both Tuesday and yesterday.  On Tuesday I met him as he checked into his hotel, the Fairmont (very ostentatious), and we had dinner with a couple of his business associates at the restaurant there, touted to be the best steakhouse in Beijing.  Most of the steaks were over 300 kuai (the most expensive was over 600!), so I got lamb instead; it was rather mind-boggling.  We also went over his financial information so I could submit everything to the need access application for law schools.
  • I had a phone interview with the associate dean of admissions for Harvard on Wednesday night.  It went very well - we talked about my program here and my mission and what I wanted in a legal education, and then I asked her a little about herself.  She has spent the last 15 years or so moving between Cambridge and Boston, so she's obviously biased, but even so I might consider Harvard over Stanford.  We'll see.
  • Before the interview there was institute at the Stratford's house.  The topic was on the gift of the Holy Ghost and gifts of the Spirit.  I won't say too much about the lesson, but Brother Stratford told a story that I wish I had recorded.  It was about a blessing he gave to the four-year-old son of a former research assistant of his who had pancreatic cancer, and the boy was cured of his cancer.  Later, his assistant came to clerk in his firm in HK, and the first night he told Brother Stratford that his wife made him promise to ask what the burning feeling they had felt during the blessing was.  And later on the man was able to continue his studies at Duke.  Brother Stratford spoke of holding the boy on his lap and having the strongest desire to be able to bless and help him, and then feeling inspired to tell them about priesthood blessings.  This story greatly touched me, and I felt a confirmation that if I have a desire to bless people, the Lord will allow me to do so.
  • The weekend is in under two hours!  Wahoo!  FHE tonight at Samily's house, running and musical practice tomorrow, church.  Then Monday...

2.5 weeks in Beijing

Well, now that we have Internet access at home, I think updating the blog will be much easier!  As an aside, the only reason I've broken it up into work and the rest of my life recently is because I have to submit work journals to Flagship, so it will be easier this way.

The last week has been fantastic!  List format:
  • Wednesday night was the devotional with Elder Oaks.  I got a recording of it, which turned out well except for one part where the microphone conked out on Elder Hallstrom.  Overall, it was a very spiritually strengthening meeting focused on basic obedience to gospel principles and our covenants, and there wasn't anything earth-shattering on China specifically, but it was well worth attending.  Elder Oaks shook most everyone's hand; I was a little disappointed that he wasn't actually looking at me when he shook mine, but still happy he did.
  • After that, Isaac took me, Joel, Karin and Josef out to a Taiwanese place for dinner, and we ate ridiculous amounts food, including awesome dim sum!  Isaac is pretty well-off, and he's always paying for things (see below).
  • On Friday, about 15 YSA's had dinner at a pizza place, Krow's Nest, which was a cool bar/pizza joint with enormous pizzas.  Think Slab Pizza sized slices and the same kind of pizza.  We got four pizzas and it was more than enough.  And Isaac insisted on paying for half of it.  Then we invited people over to our house to watch a movie, and about 10 people came over and watched The Princess Bride (not my first choice, but a good party movie and some people hadn't seen it).  Isaac drove some of us, and he stopped to get a huge cake at a bakery that cost at least 400 kuai and then took us to Cold Stone for ice cream on top of that!  It was fun to have people over, even though we hadn't really cleaned our house yet, and we only managed to eat a quarter of the cake, so the rest is in our freezer.
  • On Saturday, I walked to Gehua and applied for broadband.  In the afternoon, I went on a 10K run to Tian'anmen Square and back.  Actually, it was 6.3 km to Tian'anmen, so I only ran partway back and took a cab from there.  It was really cool to run through the enormous crowds and see all the Chinese people gaping at me for wearing running clothes in freezing weather.  I might do it again tomorrow!  The first cab driver I tried said 100 kuai to get back home - absurd.  He was obviously under the impression that I was an incredibly gullible tourist.  I hopped in a cab a half block later and it only cost 20 something to get home.
  • After that, I went to the Easter program practice at the church.  They're doing The Garden, a musical by Michael McLean.  Andrew Dougherty volunteered me for it, but I don't mind.  They need the support, and I was given a tenor solo right away.  Fun!
  • Joel and I translated sacrament meeting at church on Sunday.  It was my first time doing it in a while, so I was a little choppy, but it's good experience.  I'm also a branch missionary, and I hope I can be involved in teaching lessons and things.
  • After church, many of the YSA's had dinner at Sister Classen's house, which was incredible.  There were pork chops, pumpkin soup, quiche, salad, peach cobbler, brownies, cheesecake, etc etc.  So good!  Anyway, I got home only to realize that I had left my bag at Sister Clausen's house, so I took a taxi back and bused home, because it was 1/20 the cost.  But it took 40 minutes.  Sigh.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Work journal, Day 12

I’ve been getting more assignments, which has helped alleviate the boredom in some degree.  In the past few days, I’ve translated a couple letters from a French cosmetics company to the French Embassy and the French Chamber of Commerce and then letters regarding those from those organizations to a Beijing court (the company was asking for some political influence to help it win a court case), which was very interesting and made me feel important, I have translated the resume of one of the partners into English, and I have redone LexField’s official stationery design (because Yi Lushi thought I was good at technical stuff – where on my resume does it say that?!), and I have edited a good chunk of the English website and several other documents.  Last Friday, I taught an English class to about 30 of the people in the firm, going over small grammar issues and how to say things more directly.  They enjoyed it, although some people wanted me to speak English while giving the presentation.  Lots of people were surprised that I wasn’t nervous giving a presentation – one of the many blessings of having served a mission.

I go out to lunch most every day with three other guys from the patent team, Shizhao Liu, Shuo Liang, and Tong Qi.  Shizhao is a year younger than me and a funny guy.  He’s the one who plays the saxophone, and he’s always buying things online and complaining about shipping and credit cards and stuff.  Shuo is probably 28 or so and married; he’s kind of the ringleader of the three of them.  Tong is quiet and reserved – he asks me questions about America sometimes, but I know hardly anything about him.  I join in their conversations at lunch except when I don’t understand what they’re talking about, which is maybe 10-15% of the time, and then I follow along and pretend I get it anyway.

We get off work at 5 on Fridays!  Meaning today!  I’m looking forward to the weekend.  Next week I need to be more proactive in trying to get to know what other people around here do on a daily basis, instead of doing my own thing.  It would be cool to go to the court and file briefs or listen to a hearing if anyone has one coming up.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Work journal, Day 6

Days 3-5 were 马马虎虎; I started editing the English version of the website, and then on Tuesday Hester Qiu, who sits next to me, started asking me about my edits, so I explained some of the grammar and other things to her, and she suggested that we have a weekly legal drafting class.  So I emailed the partners, and Yi Yongmei got back to me, and now I’m teaching a class tomorrow!  So I’m more busy than I have been so far – I’ve been editing reports and the website and case synopses, and today I have to make a lesson plan and think about what I want to teach tomorrow so it will be effective and not just more memorization like they always learn English.  We’ll see how that turns out.

I had to open a Chinese bank account so they can pay me.  It’s about time I had one anyway, and now I can finally figure out how to buy things online here!  However, it was a bit of a 麻烦 this week, because when the secretary told me to open an account, she said, “There’s a Bank of China right around the corner there.”  I went over my lunch break, but I decided to get an account with Construction Bank instead, because it doesn’t cost me anything to withdraw there from my Bank of America account.  They were very professional and gave me preferential treatment – my number was 127, and the count was only at 93, but they directed me to an open service desk and let me start setting up my account right away, so it only took 20 minutes.  However, when I got back to the office and showed the secretary my card, she told me that I had to get a Bank of China account!  I had thought she was just recommending Bank of China because it was close.  Miscommunication.  So yesterday, I went over lunch to get yet another bank account set up.  It took the whole of lunch and then some (I didn’t get back to the office until just before 2); they weren’t nearly as nice as at Construction Bank.  They were professional, however, and now I have two Chinese bank accounts, where two days ago I had none.  Now to figure out Taobao!  I mean work on my lesson plan… J  When I got back, Sally and Hester (we share a cubicle block) were concerned that I hadn’t eaten.  I shouldn’t have told them that I didn’t eat lunch, because they were worried about me for the rest of the day, and Hester gave me some fruit.  It would have been fine, except that I was fasting, so it was slightly awkward.  I thanked them and put the fruit in my drawer for later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Week 1 in Beijing

It has certainly been a full week here, and a good one at that.  So many things to report on...

My train got in Tuesday afternoon, and I headed for Andrew Dougherty's office.  It was only seven or so metro stops away, so I elected for that instead of taking a taxi.  Bad choice - I had to change lines twice, and there were no escalators in these stations, so my arms got more than a workout each lugging an enormous suitcase up multiple flights of stairs!  The subway here isn't nearly as nice as Nanjing or Shanghai - kind of old and run down.

Then I got off at Jianguomen station and started looking for the world trade center.  Problem: there are too many buildings here that could be construed as a 'world trade center', so I ended up going to three different places and walking forever before I found Andrew's office.  By which time it was nearly 3:30 and I hadn't eaten lunch.  Andrew works in the tallest building in Beijing, and he's on the 36th floor with an incredible view.  After he finished work, we went home and I got to meet Nicola and the nine-month-old master William.  They're an awesome couple, and I can see why my parents like them so much - they're alike in a lot of ways.  We had tortilla soup for dinner, which was a fantastic welcome to Beijing!

Wednesday I walked all over Chaoyang looking for apartments and realtors.  Actually, I spent most of the morning getting my iPhone set up.  Once I had that, I set up a few appointments.  The first was awful.  The rent was 3100 a month, and it was a concrete cell.  There was no kitchen and the bathroom light didn't work.  I felt around for a second and touched a live wire, shocking myself pretty well but not enough to hurt.  And it was filthy.  No, thank you!

The afternoon was pretty long, but I saw a couple places I liked all right, although they were all 4000 or slightly over, more expensive than I had originally planned on.  But apparently in this neighborhood it's either that or live on the edge of habitability.  You want cheaper, you leave the city center.  Mostly, I felt like the city was forbidding and impersonal.  All the streets are wide and there were no little neighborhood streets with stalls and little shops anywhere.  So I went home slightly discouraged but with a few options.  Pesto for dinner; Nicola outdoes herself!  I went to institute later at the Stratford's home and met them and some YSA here; it will be very nice to have that every week again.

Thursday I started work.  I wrote a journal entry abut that already, so we'll leave that there.  I get off at 6, so after that I headed back for dinner (fish/snow pea stir fry) and then went out to meet Joel and see my favorite apartment option again with him.  We went, and lo and behold the landlord agreed to let us rent for four months!  Miracle!  So we agreed then and there to sign and move in on Saturday.  Rent is 4500, but it was nice to be done worrying about it that soon and without much pain.

Friday I of course went to work again.  It's only a 15 minute walk from the Dougherty's house, so I couldn't have found a more convenient place to stay for my first few days.  After work, Joel and I hung out at the Dougherty's, ordered Italian food and watched The King's Speech, an excellent movie.  I'm glad I finally got around to watching it.  We were going to babysit William, but they ended up taking him to the Valentine's dance instead, so we were on our own.

On Saturday, I slept in (until 9 or so - I've become an early riser in the last week!) and then packed my things and messed around until it was time to go.  I made a salad for lunch, and Andrew made their maid stay and eat some with us.  It was funny to watch her try to refuse, but she finally ate some and quite liked it, so they gave her a bottle of salad dressing before she left.  Oh, mianzi!  Andrew drove me over to the apartment in his Jeep Cherokee, and Joel and I signed the contract and moved in.  It's fairly nice - white tile floors, good furniture, a huge tv - and the area is pretty good, too.  There's a park across the street and it's right by the river, and there are places to eat pretty close and a sports center across the street.  Not a bad find.

It also turned out to be a short bus ride away from church!  So it's close to everything (it's a 25 minute commute for me to work - seven minutes to the station, ten minute ride, eight minutes on the other side).  We made it to church right on time; church here is on the fourth floor of an office building that we rent out.  There were mostly older couples and younger couples with small children in the branch, but there were also about 15 YSA there, and there was a YSA Sunday school class.  Two of the new YSA girls, Karin and Andrea, came to the Dougherty's for dinner after church, so we got to know them a little better.  Andrea just joined the church in November and is here with an American University program until May; Karin is a BYU student here interning with China Post until August or so.  There might be some potential there - she's cute and learning Chinese, two important things in a future spouse...

The last couple days were pretty much the same; not much variety.  Work, come home, grab dinner at a place nearby, and putter before bed.  I mopped half the house yesterday but didn't have the motivation to do more today.  Maybe later.  The place will look really nice when it's all cleaned up.  Joel's okay with small tasks if they don't take long, but he doesn't really have the desire to do any thorough cleaning.  There won't be time tomorrow: there's a fireside with Elder Oaks, Hallstrom, and Perkins at 7, so there's my day all planned out already!  I'm looking forward to the fireside.  Hopefully the spirit directs me further as to what I'm supposed to be doing in my life.  We shall see what the morrow brings...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Work journal, Day 2

Hardly anyone was here a few minutes before 9 when I got here.  They all seemed to arrive together a couple minutes after 9 (you’re not late unless you arrive after 9:05).  So far I’ve sat at my desk and read part of the Patent Law of the People’s Republic of China and written down vocabulary words I didn’t know, and I’m waiting for Mr. Jiang or someone to give me an assignment.

A funny from yesterday that I almost forgot – when introducing me to one of the guys from the patent litigation department, the head of HR (or the secretary, I forget which) said, “He’s really good at sex!”  No kidding.  I figured out after a bit that they meant the saxophone, but she and others said it so it sounded like sex.  Should I tell them?  Hmm…

Some things I’ve learned at Lexfield: use the left bank of elevators to avoid traipsing the maze of corridors on the 10th floor.  Food is slightly cheaper at the regular cafeteria downstairs (15.50 for a decent-sized meal; I found some coworkers to eat with and I remember one of their names!  Progress.).  Office plants smelling of lemon and costing 10 kuai are a plus.  HR directors aren’t as perky in China.  I just met the director of HR again coming back from lunch, and she is so quiet and reserved!  I guess that’s okay here, but in the States, HR people always seem to be bubbly and exuberant, or at least loud.  Interesting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Work journal, Day 1

I made it here right on the dot – I thought I would be early, but this building is a little confusing.  Either way, they put me in a conference room and made me wait for 25 minutes before anything happened.  Then I got introduced to the head of HR and the head secretary here (it is so hard to remember everyone’s names – that’s something I’ll have to work hard at so as not to offend people), and we went over little procedural things.  Then Yi Yongmei, one of the partners, gave me a tour and a brief history of the firm and what we do.

Since then, I’ve had a few assignments thrown my way, including a copy of China’s patent law and a translation of a patent application to look over.  Most of my work will probably be translation and communicating with clients in English, which is fine; I’ll learn a lot of law vocabulary that way.

I had lunch with three coworkers in the patent litigation department.  Again, I can’t remember their names.  There’s a cafeteria in the basement with good food, although a little pricey by Nanjing standards (20-30 kuai a plate).  I had beef and rice (more like Korean food, very tasty) for 22 kuai, and we talked for a while.  Now I’m back in the office working on reading a statement concerning a lawsuit brought against a Chinese company by a division of Huntsman in Switzerland so I can help Mr. Jiang draft an email about it later.

It is so hot in here – I’m dying…

The seats are really short, and I haven’t figured out how to put them up yet, but it doesn’t matter because the desk is so short…

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Train ride to Beijing

Only a little bit more to catch up I'm on the train to Beijing.  After flying to Hangzhou, saying goodbye to Jonathan and taking the train to Shanghai, we spent the night at the Griffiths' house.  Sister Griffiths is friends with my mom, so I properly introduced myself this time.  We left at 7:30 this morning, Seth for work and Josef and I for the Hongqiao train station, where he got a train to Qingdao and I boarded mine to Beijing.

I love high speed trains!  They are so convenient and cheap compared to air travel, and I can bring all of my stuff with me without paying baggage fees.  I finally got all my stuff into my two suitcases and backpack, so I'm more mobile than when I left Nanjing, thankfully.  The train left at 9 am, and we just stopped in Nanjing ten minutes ago; the next stop is Beijing South.  The scenery is quite beautiful, actually, and I'm really enjoying the ride.  Beijing will be cold, and I'm only wearing a light jacket, but I don't want to open my suitcase to dig for a coat.  Hmm.

So the five of us who went to KL for the break turned into four, then three yesterday, two this morning, and finally I'm by myself.  I had a small bout of nostalgia as we passed through Nanjing - I loved the city and my time there.  I'm a little sad to have left everyone behind, but I'm also excited for Beijing and work.  Seth was nervous for his first day of work - I probably would be too if I were working in a lab.  On the other hand, though, at least his days will probably be fairly structured.  Lexfield hasn't ever had an intern before that I know of, so I will feel useless some of the time, I'm sure.  I'm slightly worried about my language competency, but hopefully flagship has prepared me well enough.  Whatever happens, it's too late to go back; I'm hurtling towards Beijing at 307 km/hr!

I'm having mixed feelings about the land I'm passing through.  On the one hand, it looks wide and inviting, with well-groomed fields and roads and lines of trees to break the wind.  It reminds me of Ontario in that way.  However, it's almost too organized.  Every field looks the same, and every few fields there's a row of concrete or brick houses lined up on the same street.  The vestiges of a centrally planned economy are still strong here, despite the transformation China's large cities have been through in the past 30 years.  This farmland has been tamed for so long that nearly all the charm and rugged beauty has gone out of it, and looking at it I don't feel the pride of ownership and productivity that seem to emanate from similar sights in America.  Of course, that's just a feeling, and maybe it's inaccurate and stereotypical.  But I do believe our cultures have different attitudes about farming.  In China, farmers provide sustenance.  They are the backbone of the country, but they were not glorified as the laborers were during the revolution, and nearly everyone whose grandparents were farmers are glad that their parents left and gave them a good education and a better life.  In America, farmers were the brave, intrepid souls who tamed the wilderness and claimed it in the name of Manifest Destiny.  They were pioneers and entrepreneurs.  Education, for the most part, is no worse in rural America, or at least the social stigma and systematic differences aren't nearly as large as in China.  Yes, we still have the archetypal stories of the young man from the farm going to the big city to find a better life, but for the most part there is no shame in being from a rural community.  Looking at the farms out the train window, however, I feel transported back to feudal society - these people have been here for generations, and they don't have the resources or education to change that, for the most part.  Modern technology has improved their lives, but they are still largely in thrall to their old way of life and the emperor who is now the central government.  The government has done much good, especially in the last 20 years, but some things are uniquely Chinese, and they will remain with China for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever, among them the differences between rural and urban life.

Now we've gone from the green fields of the south to the brown fields and frozen rivers of the north.  The train just passed Tianjin on the right, and we should be coming to Beijing soon.  I'm not looking forward to the freezing weather! :( It looks more like Russia now, still wide and open and flat, but with brown fallow earth and icy tributaries snaking everywhere.