Brand New Office, Sinterklaas and Christmas

December is flying by, the temperature dropped hard last week but will go up to 24 degrees again next week, so it never really felt like December to me. This also means that my last 3 weeks at the office are here. In these weeks our team still wants to achieve a lot more, and I will probably do more fun things!

First up, the biggest event. Last Monday the company we are working for finished their new office in a different building in the Software Park. We were invited to work there, which allows us to work closely with everyone else involved in this project (our team grew again since my last post, counter is now at 10!). Their new office offers a more comfortable and productive environment for the 5 of us that previously worked in the CHECK-IT office. We got proper desks (that won’t fall apart while holding our quite expensive hardware) and chairs, along with an environment which is much more like an actual company that doesn’t give off a classroom feeling like the CHECK-IT office.

The new office has already given us a boost in productivity, motivation and overall enjoyment of the project, which is great! Unfortunately, we only get to work there for 4 weeks in total. Pictures below this post!

As part of our cultural exchange with the Chinese students, we organized a second day to celebrate Sinterklaas. On the 10th of December we got a late visit from Sinterklaas (Spain is pretty far from here!) and his Zwarte Piet performed by 2 of my Dutch colleagues in actual costumes which was pretty hilarious to see. Piet also gave me a few kruidnoten, but 10 of them is not enough, so I will compensate for that next year.

We also exchanged gifts and poems with the Chinese students (I’m pretty bad at Sinterklaas-poems in English!), my secret Sinterklaas got me an awesome card along with some traditional stone statues that should keep evil spirits out of my house (pictured below the post, too). Nice!

Our next and probably last cultural activity day will be next Thursday to celebrate Christmas, stuff is still being planned for this. We might have another party at the new office too! Other plans for the end of the year are not clear yet, but I keep forgetting that I also have to celebrate my birthday on the 30th (normally I’d be freezing on my birthday). On the 8th of January we will end the work on our project with a final presentation, I leave for Tokyo on the 21st and will be back on Schiphol on the 29th at 15:10. Maybe I’ll have another post before I leave, or else I’ll write everything when I’m back home.

Not a lot of pictures today, so enjoy some of my meals to fill this up! The office is still being worked on so most of the crappy chairs you see have been replaced already!

Mid-Term Presentation, Cultural Activities and more

It’s been a while since my last post! The last month has been filled with a lot of work, deadlines and cool activities in and around Xiamen.

A few weeks ago we arrived at the half-way point in our internship here, so we had to give a “mid-term presentation” to the Dutch and Chinese teachers (plus some other visitors from the Netherlands). Our first 2 months here were filled with mostly training and learning new stuff so we had only started work on the final product for a bit less than a week at that point. Nevertheless, we were able to show our learning progress and plans for the next months and got the teachers pretty excited about what we might deliver in January.

After this presentation, we have been working hard on the first scene (out of 6/7) of our final “movie”. Because there are only two months left, we hope to finish the first 3 scenes by January. The company we’re working for is supporting us a lot and the team working on this has grown from 4 to 8 (most of which are under my control). I said we would have moved in to their new office by now, unfortunately this move is handled in a very Chinese way so they only just started working on their new office last week.

It’s not all about work here in Xiamen, so we’re still doing our cultural activities. This time we (the Dutch students) also organized a day full of information about our country and culture, games, and Dutch-style pancakes. Hopefully some of the information and Dutch words will stay with them!

One of the Chinese cultural activities was a trip to a soy sauce drying yard (which is apparently the biggest one of its type). Although I love soy sauce, and the huge field of drying pots was cool to see, the museum was not that exciting.

Another activity from this week was a trip to “Volcano Island” in Zhangzhou. I was kind of confused because this was both not an island nor a traditional big volcano. Nevertheless it was a relaxing and clean area to just walk around all day, although winter is starting to kick in so the temperature dropped hard that day. Around the island there were some big pieces of dried lava, but because of the tide most of them were not visible.

Other activities in my weekends are mostly going out with friends and colleagues, going on random trips through Xiamen visiting interesting places and (unfortunately) keeping up with some assignments for school. Below are some pictures of one of those trips to some shopping street near the beach. I’m also trying to learn some basic Mandarin by myself, which is still pretty hard but kind of works.

Right now, there’s only one and a half month left at CHECK-IT, time flies by when you’re having fun. When we finish up everything here in Xiamen, I will travel to Tokyo for a week with a small group of friends here to finish up our adventures in Asia. Really looking forward to enjoying both the last 1,5 month here and our trip to Tokyo!

National Day Golden Week

So, the national day holiday has been over for a while now and I finally got around to writing something here after a busy week at the office.

The National Day Golden Week is my only week off during my internship, so I had to use it wisely. This was quite a bit easier as it’s becoming easier to get around the city compared to my first two weeks here before work started. To make this week a bit more special, my dad visited me during this week and I was able to show him around in Xiamen. Of course, a whole week is a bit too long to just visit places in Xiamen, so we decided to also visit Shanghai for 3 days.

In Xiamen, we visited most of the touristic places that I’ve already been to (XMU campus, Nanputuo Temple, Zhongshan Road, etc) and also showed my dad stuff in and around the Software Park. Apparently, Xiamen is a very popular city to visit if you’re Chinese which made the touristic spots awfully busy sometimes. For example, every entrance gate at the university campus had a huge line for tourists in the burning sun. Fortunately, I’m a registered student so we were able to skip those lines and enter freely!

After a few days in Xiamen, we made our first trip out of the Xiamen area to Shanghai. Our original plan was to take the high-speed train, but due to time constraints we were better off flying there. Because everyone in China travels around the country during this week, public transport was pretty busy. Nevertheless, we got some cheap tickets with the help of a Chinese colleague. We were lucky that the flight isn’t that long, because the plane was not designed people with tall legs which meant that I only just fit in their economy class seats.

Once arrived at the airport (which is quite a bit away from the downtown area), we took the high-speed maglev (magnetic levitation) train into the city. This train reaches speeds ranging from 300 to 450 km/h depending on the time of day and turns an hour ride in the metro into 7 minutes. After checking in at our hotel, we met up with Jerry (also from CHECK-IT) who was also visiting Shanghai. We visited the Yuyuan Garden area (the actual garden was closed) which had a lot of old-style Chinese buildings with shops and restaurants in them. When the sun had set, we went to Nanjing Road (which is a big shopping street) and ended up at The Bund, which has a long boulevard along the river where you can view the various skyscrapers and towers in the Pudong area. All the buildings were lit up with all sorts of effects which made it a pretty nice view.

The second day, we went to the other side of the river and walked between all these buildings (there are so many of them) and eventually decided to visit the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC) which has a viewing deck on the 100th floor (474m). The weather was clearer than the day before so we were able to see quite a bit. After going down and strolling around the area a bit more, we went to visit the actual garden of the Yuyuan Garden. Luckily, the garden wasn’t as busy as the area outside, so we could walk around easily and enjoy the area. We were pretty exhausted after this so we went back to the hotel and got some food, we got up on time the next day to walk around Nanjing Road and the Bund at daytime. After a bit of that, we had to leave for the airport again and after being cramped up for 2 hours again we arrived in Xiamen.

The next day, my work started again, so my father had a few days to relax and explore some things on his own. My work is progressing nicely, the first 4-5 weeks are dedicated to training in Unreal Engine and 3DSMax for us, so work on the final product will start in 2-3 weeks. On Sunday my weekend finally started so we visited Gulangyu Island (we tried this during the holiday, but all the ferry tickets were sold out). It wasn’t as hot as usual, so we walked around the island for quite a while. The island has various architectural styles because of influences from other countries trading with Xiamen in the VOC era. The island also had a few statues dedicated to the national hero Koxinga who is famous for taking back Taiwan from the Dutch colonial rule.

The next weeks will mostly be filled with hard work, which I don’t mind because my project is pretty fun and the company we’re working with is pretty cool about everything (we even got 4 pretty strong PC’s to use, because the required software is quite heavy!). They are giving us a lot of time before starting work on the final product. We will also move to their new office in mid November, which might have some better facilities for our work. And possibly safer elevators, because I got stuck with 10 people in ours last Thursday for half an hour…

As usual some pictures (mostly of our trip to Shanghai):

Two Weeks at the Office

The weekend is here again, so I decided to write something about the past 2 weeks here at CHECK-IT. Those weeks have been filled with both some fun activities with the group and sitting in the office with not much to do. Presenting all the available projects and assigning everyone to a group had cost about 1,5 week. I will be working with a company on some research about VR Interaction with my team (2 Dutch, 2 Chinese) during the next few months here. If all goes well, we can start some actual work on Monday after our first meeting with the project owner.

Every few weeks, our Thursdays will be dedicated to a cultural activity, which is organised by either the Chinese or the Dutch students/teacher. On the first Thursday, we went to the Xiamen University campus to check it out. The main campus of the university is pretty big, it’s like a city on its own. After assembling at the main entrance of the campus, we went to visit the Nanputuo Temple. This temple was built in the Tang Dynasty (yr. 600-900) and is now adjacent to the campus. After the temple, we went on an unplanned visit to the mountain behind the temple, which gave us a great view of the campus and sea when we, drenched in sweat, finally arrived at the top. During the rest of the day, we visited some other places on the campus and ended at another smaller campus nearby which contains the school of software.

Our second cultural activity was last Thursday, this time we celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival (although, the actual festival is tomorrow). This festival is the second most important festival in China, after Chinese New-Year. We’ve played some dice games at the office to win prizes and got some mooncakes. Playing dice games is apparently a tradition in Xiamen. Mooncakes are eaten around this festival in the whole country, but their taste can be a bit weird, depending on what filling you get.

Every Friday, we get our Chinese culture and language lessons. The first few lessons are dedicated to learning how to properly pronounce letters and combinations of letters in all 4 tones. Because of those tones, there are just so many ways to pronounce stuff, but getting the tone wrong will completely change the meaning of a word. Because of this, our teacher puts heavy emphasis on pronunciation and is currently drilling every combination into our heads (or rather, vocal cords?).

And now, I will proceed with enjoying my weekend. Next Thursday is National Day which means I get a whole week off. During this week, my father will be visiting me, we might visit Shanghai for a few days too! The Saturday after this week is “Special Working Day”, everybody will be at work that Saturday (might even be the best national holiday?). I still hope to make some progress in our project startup in the few days we have left next week though.

Here’s another picture dump:

The First Week

The first week is over already? It sure went by quickly. I’ve done some activities with the group this week to see more of the city center and nightlife whilst still trying to build up some sort of daily routine (which will probably change when I start working next week).

A small group of us went to the downtown area of Xiamen some days ago where we wanted to check out the shops and street food. We found a small street which was filled with shops that sold various amounts of food, from fried fish to duck rolls and some sweet dishes. We had some food there and went into some alleys which eventually led us to a pretty long market with mostly fish stalls, Xiamen is a coastal city after all. After enough wandering around, we had dinner in a different part of the downtown area at a place that was supposed to have some great and traditional noodles/rice dishes.

During the day we’ve been guiding people that just arrived and doing other stuff. I’ve explored the software park to see where our office is located. The whole park is pretty big and thus contains a lot of office buildings for various technology-oriented companies. In the center of the software park, there is a nice and relaxing park with some ponds. I’ve also been able to get a SIM card with the help of the teacher that will give us our Chinese lessons, so I’m able to WeChat and stuff outside of my apartment or the office!

Some of our nights were filled with visiting some pool place in an alley nearby, going to KTV (karaoke) and visiting a club. The karaoke was pretty fun, but messed up my sleep because the sun was already up when we left the place (6am).

We will be at the office tomorrow morning to discuss some stuff and will hold the opening ceremony next monday. I’m eagerly awaiting more information about the projects and the Chinese students!

Arriving and Adjusting

After my ~11 hour flight in business class I arrived safely in Xiamen. Today marks my third day here and I think I am slowly starting to getting used to getting around and living here. Xiamen is a pretty big city but looks very clean and is not super crowded (although there are about 2 million people on the island alone). I still need to see quite a few things here, so I’m looking forward to that.

My first few days here were mainly filed with doing a bit of essential shopping for my room, discovering places to eat, registering at the police office and adjusting to the new timezone. I don’t have a kitchen in my room, so I need to eat at local restaurant / food stalls for dinner. You can eat somewhere in almost any street for 10-25¥* or just take the bus (1¥) to the huge mall nearby (I was told that there is an even bigger one here) filled with shops, restaurants and a large Wal-mart in the basement. I don’t have any food pictures right now (except for my meals on the flight), but 15¥ can get you some great food around here.

My room is fine, looked pretty tidy when I arrived, the only thing is that the lights in my bathroom are broken. I need to report that soon. Because the room is on the 28th floor, I have a great view over the Software Park and other parts of the city which light up at night.

Getting around here is mostly done by bus or taxi for us, I’m not very familiar with the bus system so I just use it to get to the mall and back. Other trips are done by taxi, which will get me to the other side of the island for like €5. Taxi’s are everywhere here, but just like other drivers in China they have a.. unique driving style by completely ignoring any lines on the road, honking at least 50% of their time driving and just causing chaos everywhere. Anyways, it seems like it works fine for them.

I will be checking out the city center soon, possibly at night because going out is supposed to be almost free as a foreigner. I still have a week of free time before actually starting work on the 14th, so I have quite some time to check out more of the city.

*) 7¥ = €1

Leaving soon

I am currently preparing my site (and myself) for my adventures in Xiamen. Hopefully uploading photo’s will go smoothly in my apartment, otherwise you will have to enjoy my stories in plain-text.

Most of the important preparations to enter China safe and legally are already completed, but my visa application will take a few more days. The upcoming training week and actually packing my stuff are the only major tasks awaiting me now. My plane will depart from Schiphol on the 3rd of September, so that’s only 3 weeks from now. Pretty exciting!