The REAL Hot-Pot

Before I left Beijing, I had the opportunity to go out with some Chinese friends to a hot-pot dinner.  As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, hot-pot is a traditional chinese meal, where you get a bunch of different foods like vegetables, raw meats, fish, and other stuff and cook it at your table in a “hot-pot.”  By this point, I have had hot-pot a few times, but this time was much different as I was with some hot-pot experts who took me to their favorite spot and made me try things that I not only would not know how to order in Chinese, but that I would never choose to order in English.  The main piece of food that I am referring to is cow stomach.  When it was on the table I was a little curious because I could not recognize what it was.  They told me what is was and I hesitated, but went through with it anyway.  This was a good and a bad lesson for me because the cow stomach was actually really tasty!  Good in that I was glad I tried food that seemed completely disgusting, bad in that it made me more brave to try other strange foods down the road which often did not turn out so well.  You made your own dipping sauces at a small buffet table of ingredients.  I had an idea of what I was putting in my mix, not entirely sure, but was very pleased with my result.  Of course it was not as good as the hot-pot experts that I went with (I ended up using a lot more of their sauces than my own), but mine was still good for a rookie.

The "Hot" Pot

Self-made Dipping Sauce

Entire Fish Boiling in the Spicy Side (Head Included)

tasty Shrimp

Roast Beef Ready to be Boiled

From Left to Right - Lotus Root, Cow Stomach, Shrimp Paste

Another cool aspect of the meal was how we got our noodles.  If you wanted to order noodles, you call over this young guy to your table to had a small piece of dough, and he stretch it out by dancing in the middle of a very narrow walkway, throwing these noodles over his head, and spinning them around….very cool!  For anyone who is interested, there are videos of the meal and mr.noodle’s noodle dance on the Photobucket site.

Noodles from Mr. Noodle and the Noodle Dance

Catch Up Time

It has been a while since my last post, but the last month has been incredibly busy from traveling through China, to finishing up finals, saying goodbye to Beijing, arriving in Shanghai, starting an internship with Gensler, and exploring my new home for the summer.  I will get to all of this eventually, but now that I have some extra time back on my hands, I’ll start where I left off!


Mr. Chairman

During the 100 year celebration of the university, I spotted this student landscape project on display…

Mr. Chairman

I’m thinking I could do something similar for Obama, but I just don’t think I could pull it off.


Houhai is a cluster of three linked bodies of water just over a mile or so North from the center of Beijing.  They are located in Gulou, the district famous for hu tongs (the traditional chinese courtyard style housing seen here).

Chinese Courtyard House

A few of us from the EPMA program went to visit Houhai, and it was packed!  It was a sunday afternoon, the weather was great, which of course meant very crowded!  As is the case in most famous cities, as the weather begins getting nicer, in come the tourists. Beijing is extremely crowded already, so the addition of tourist season should make things pretty interesting from here on out.  Anyway, once we made it past the masses, we decided to rent boats, and go out onto the urban lakes and paddle around.  These were the boats that you row by peddling like a bicycle.  Once on the lake (more like a large pond), we got a glimpse of the drum tower.

Overview of Houhai

Drum Tower

The drum tower (along with the bell tower) are two of Beijing’s most historical buildings.  As we just got a glimpse of these two, and we really didn’t know anything about them at the time, I have learned from wonderful Wikipedia that:

“Gǔlóu (鼓楼), the drum tower of Beijing, is situated at the northern end of the central axis of the Inner City to the north of Di’ anmen Street. Originally built for musical reasons, it was later used to announce the time and is now a tourist attraction.

Zhōnglóu (钟楼), the bell tower of Beijing, stands closely behind the drum tower. Together with the drum tower, they provide an overview of central Beijing and before the modern era, they both dominated Beijing’s ancient skyline.”

After we were finished with our boat ride, we were wandering around looking for a place to eat dinner and bumped into the bell tower as well.  Someone suggested a quick look, but we all agreed that food was the primary focus!  I’ve added a link to the page if anyone is interested in learning more about the towers.  I would like to make a trip to go in and look around, so hopefully there is enough time to go back.

Bell Tower

Shortly after passing the bell tower, we found a great little spot within the hu tongs to get some dinner.  We had a few chinese speakers with us, which I have mentioned, always helps when you want to be adventurous in terms of trying new food.  I am usually not a fan of eggplant, but we had some eggplant that was cooked in all sorts of peppers and spices and it was amazing!  For anyone looking for a nice place to stay in traditional Beijing, as we walked out of the restaurant, we spotted the “Happy Chopsticks Hostel.” I don’t know much about the place, but judging strictly by the title, it’s got to be pretty awesome.

Happy Chopsticks Hostel

We kept walking around a small shopping area in the hu tongs and came across a music shop.  After a quick look around and a few test drives, I purchased a beautiful Yamaha acoustic guitar.  I have been practicing my bargaining techniques (as is the custom here in China) and got the salesman to go down from 500 kuai ($75) to 400 kuai ($60).  I have had a few guitars over the years, and this one is definitely the best bang for the buck, so I think I might have to try to bring it home.

Ertong Master Plan – Midterm Review

Luckily my group and I exchanged all of our files after the midterm review, so when my hard drive died, I still had a copy of most (not all but most) of my work for the semester.  There was a quite a large jury present for our review including our five professors (some constant and some visiting): Zhang Yue (Tsinghua), Zou Tao (Tsinghua), Zhang Lingyun (Herzog + Partner), George Kunihiro (Hong Kong University), and Odilo Schoch (ETH Zürich).  There were also a few guest critics from within Tsinghua including former Roger Williams professor Ron Henderson.  Somehow with only five group presentations, the review still lasted a little over 5 hours.  As has been the case for most of the semester, we gave our presentations via Powerpoint on a large projector screen within our studio space.  This is a little bit different from what we are used to.  Back at Roger Williams, and most of the educational experiences I have had up to this point, there is more of a focus on physical panel layout presentations than digital Powerpoint presentations, but both are effective in their own way.

The requirements for the review included a master plan of the entire proposed Ertong Housing Development, in addition to a more focused look at one of the four zones (A, B, C, or D) within the site boundaries.  The requirements for the smaller section included a physical model, process work, site plan, ground floor plans of any building within your chosen area, site sections, and perspectives.  Our group decided to focus on “Site B,” because within our scheme, there was a nice mix of different building uses in this particular section.  Within our master plan, this area included small office buildings, restaurants, one of our two “urban cores” or public gathering spaces, green spaces, and residential apartments utilizing both new and existing structures.

Here are a few pictures from our class the Thursday before our review.  You can tell that we still had a few days of working time left because there are a lot of smiles on everyone’s face and not a lot of stress showing yet.  Pictures shown on Monday morning would not have been so pleasant.

Summer starting to build our Site B model

Elton using the foam cutter for his groups model

Diana and Jorge hard at work

Group 2 (Kitty, Stephanie, and Scott)

Group 3 (Jasmin, Michelle, and Juliana)

Group 4 (Irwan and Jason) and Professor Zou Tao

Juliana, Nacho, Jorge, and Professor George Kunihiro

Our Group - Everyone is ready to celebrate after some long days

Here are a view images from our project.  The layout, planning, and formal design was mostly influenced by the chinese building code requirement, that each residential unit must receive two hours of sunlight everyday.  This restricts your design choices forcing you do either narrow single loaded, North-South oriented buildings or double loaded East-West oriented buildings.  North-South oriented buildings are set up well to provide natural heating during the harsh chinese winter so we tried to orient many of our building to fit this concept.  The building code requirement made it very difficult to achieve to desired occupancy/density that the professors set as a target at the beginning of the semester, as you usually had single loaded corridors to ensure the proper daylighting.  The chinese building code also changes significantly once a building is greater than nine stories, so we were not allowed to build any new structures higher than that.

New Residential Development - Section cut at Noon on the Winter solstice

One of our main strategies was to use the bottom two floors as non-residential spaces (commercial, retail, parking, public use).  This way when designing for the worst case scenario of the winter solstice at noon midday (when the sun is at its lowest angle – approximately 26 degrees in Beijing), you only have to satisfy seven floors of the daylighting requirement as opposed to nine because this only applies to residential spaces.  We also found if you shift each floor to the South just slightly, you can increase the amount of sunlight getting over the top of your building, allowing you to place your new building closer, and thus maximizing your density.  We are not quite sure how this would work out structurally at this point, but as a concept it helped get our potential residents number in the right area.

Section Cut thru Existing Residential Structure, Commercial Space, and Urban Hub

Perspective from the New Residential Structure looking at the Urban Hub

Perspective from an Existing Hospital that we converted into a Social building where local residents can find and/or post job opportunities and training

Ground Floor Retail between the new Residential Structures leading to the pedestrian bridge and the urban hub

At the Southeast corner of Site B, looking at small offices buildings and restaurants

For the last few weeks of the semester, our task moving forward will be to select one of the buildings within our focus site, and further design the building according to green strategies we have discussed and researched.  Professor Herzog will be arriving on May 16th, and we will have a quick presentation to show him our urban planning concept in addition to a quick review of our progress on our individual business.

Tsinghua 100 Year Anniversary

Centennial Garden

We are fortunate enough to be here during the centennial celebration for Tsinghua University.  As one of foremost higher learning institutions in China, Tsinghua enjoys high esteem and is the pride of the nation.  Many of the leaders of China, including the current President (Hu Jintao) and Vice President (Xi Jinping), who are both alumni of the university, were in attendance throughout the week.  During the last 100 years, approximately 170,000 students have graduated from the University.  Security has been very tight at all of the gates for the past few weeks, but as the celebration came closer and closer, it got even more tight.  I am still progressing in my Chinese language skills, like if I get stopped at a security checkpoint, I can say…

Wǒ shì yīgè xuéshēng – I am a student

Wǒ qù jiànzhú lou – I go to Architecture building

But, I still have trouble responding to questions that I am being asked because of how fast the locals speak.  I can pick up a few things here and there, but still have A LOT of learning to do.

Over the course of the last month, the campus has been alive with many workers and laborers working at all hours of the day constructing new parks, sculpture gardens, landscaping, restoring existing structures, and building a few new buildings as well.  One of the more impressive features for the celebration was stage that was completed in only a few days in front of the Main Building.

Main Building Stage

All of the new features like the sculptures and gardens have made the campus more beautiful, but with the addition of Spring, the campus is looking really amazing.  The winter in Beijing and the rest of China is very harsh, so Spring has transformed the campus into almost a different place.  The locals here say that the Spring doesn’t last very long and that the harsh dry winter quickly turns into a hot and humid summer, so enjoy the comfortable weather while you can!

Blooming Flowers

Entrance to the School of Economics and Management

New Sculpture

Big Trouble in Little China

After a long week of studio work completing the master plan portion of the Ertong Housing Development, we had our midterm review Monday May 18th.  This was followed by a Chinese language midterm on Tuesday and another week long work shop with Odilo Schoch studying design strategy, building technology, and building simulation.  The workshop concluded with a review Friday morning with some of Professor Schoch’s colleagues who are currently living and working in Beijing.  Everything was going fine until I went to sleep Thursday night and woke up to find that my computer was frozen and would not turn on.  After consulting a few students and friends, we confirmed that my hard drive had crashed and I could not recover any of my files.  Fortunately, I had everything backed-up as of February, so I lost a lot of work, but also managed to retain a lot of it as well. 

Anyway…it has taken some time to get my computer set up again over here, but it is finally fixed up and ready to go.  The moral of the story, anyone reading this post, stop what you are doing and back-up your work, especially if you are in China or any other foreign country as it is NOT a fun thing to deal with!

Olympic Sports Center

With the extra day off from the Qingming festival, we decided to check off another tourist attraction on the list, visiting the Olympic Green from the 2008 Summer Olympics.  As I mentioned before, a lot of the people who live in Beijing leave the city during the holidays, making it a little easier to do the more popular tourist attractions.

Although the Olympic Park is not that far from Tsinghua University (located in the Northern section of the city), it still took three different subway lines to get there.  The city built a new subway line dedicated to serve the olympic park, but it only connects to other lines in one location.  Our plan was to get off at the “Olympic Sports Center” stop and walk to the next stop “Olympic Green,” stopping at everything in between. 

As you come out of the subway, you enter this massive square that connects the two major elements of the sports senter.  The square is located up above the 4th Ring Road, which is one of the major highways and access points in the city. Being so close to a major highway in the city, you would expect it to be loud, but it was surprislingly quiet.  The pedestrian square is lined with these unique solar collecting light posts that continue on as far as the eye can see. 

Coming out of the Subway

The park is filled with sustainable design strategies from solar panel applications to passive cooling.  There are a number of designers, architects, engineers, and planners involved in this massive project, most notably Herzog and de Mueron for designing Beijing National Stadium (known as the Bird’s Nest) and Beijing National Aquatics Center (known as the Watercube) by PTW Architects. 

The Bird's Nest by Herzog and de Meuron

The Watercube by PTW Architects

If anyone ever travels to Beijing and would like to see the Olympic Park, I recommend to come during the afternoon.  Both of the two major attractions have transparent/translucent qualities to them, so seeing the afternoon sun shine through was pretty amazing.  In addition to the translucent qualities of the Watercube, it is also reflective.  When standing in the right location, you can see light coming through the exterior and catch a reflection of the Bird’s Nest….very cool!

The East facade of the Watercube

The East facade of the Bird's Nest

We did not go into any of the buildings at the Olympic Park as it was quite expensive, but it was such a nice day (high 50’s, low 60’s) that we weren’t complaining.  Not quite sure how or why, but we quickly became local celebrities after a group of Chinese tourists asked us to take their picture, and wanted to take a picture with us in return.  After that, groups of tourist kept approaching us for pictures, maybe they mistook one of us for a movie star?  I think they were fascinated with Scott’s red hair, but being mistaken for a movie star wouldn’t be that bad either.

Local Celebrities

After escaping the masses, we went into a section of the park with a lot of statues.  There were a lot of people skating through cones and even an outdoor speed skating area.  The were quite a locals trying to sell small gifts/memorabilia to us.  Some of us bought souvenirs, but thanks to our Chinese language class, we were able to haggle the prices down a bit.

Statue in the Olympic Park

Statue in the Olympic Park

Statue in the Olympic Park

Qingming Festival

Qingming is a national holiday in China that is being celebrated today.  Translated in english to Tomb Sweeping Day, it’s a holiday where everyone visits the graves of their ancestors.  All members of the family, young or old, clean up the grave sites, in addition to leaving offerings like food, flowers, or tea.  Like most of the holidays, it means that a lot of the inhabitants of Beijing leave the city.  As opposed to American holidays, the Chinese make up the work day they will miss during the weekend.  So even though they had Monday off, they had to work the Saturday before.  This was the same case with classes at Tsinghua.  If you had classes on Monday, they had to be made up on Saturday as well.  Fortunately, our program decided to take a vote on whether we should make up Monday’s class on Saturday, and all the teachers and students agreed that the extra day off would be nice.

Taxi Ride

Last weekend I met some friends who were in town visiting Bejing.  They were staying with their family in the Southeast section of the city.  Usually when I travel this far, I travel by subway to save some money, but I decided to take a taxi because it was a nice day and presented an opportunity to record a taxi ride in Beijing.  It failed to be as exciting (life threatening) as some in the past, but you still get an idea of driving in Beijing.  If you follow the link to the page “more photos and videos,” you can view a taxi ride from Tsinghua University to the St. Regis Hotel.  It’s broken up into 3-5 minute videos, so enjoy!

Map of the Route