Monday, October 13, 2008

V. Droppin Bombs

So I still didn't have access to the school materials...

Day 4 in Wuhan City -- At 7 am, I met with Steven and we somehow survived the drive to the Hubei Province Health Center. Even at 7:30, the place was packed. The workers behind the desk had about 20 people lobbying for their attention at any given moment, a job which I'm sure after 1 week of doing results in a stroke. Steven did most of the bargaining / bartering / bribing / whatever he was doing, so I just sat down and studied the little Chinese I had figured out already. All of this annoying administrative stuff wasn't in my control, and was often discussed right in front of me in Chinese gibberish, so I didn't ask that many questions. I mean, if I get my visa, I get my visa. So for me, knowing the subtle problems of dealing with this at every step wasn't really a priority.

All I needed to know was the mission for today: Pass 7 health exams so that I can qualify for the work visa. The first lesson of the day: Lines don't exist in China, except in very controlled spaces like the velvet rope in a bank, the lines in a supermarket, or the line to see Mao's mausoleum. A McDonald's doesn't have ropes or aisles to filter people through, so lines don't exist there. The same was true was a total down-in-the-dirt free-for-all slugfest. I mean, some of these people were using trickery! This one lady tapped me on the shoulder, pointed forward, and then just walked by me to the front of the line. "Are u fuckin kidding me?" I couldn't hold it in. Why did she point forward? I thought it about it for a long time. "Cleverly done," I concluded.

I completed the first test, namely the X-Ray scan (complete with no lead protection for me), a machine which I'm certain was tempted to crush me to death. Afterwards we moved upstairs to the blood, urine, and muscle reaction rooms. I felt like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, except the rooms were creepy medical testing rooms with uncovered jars of urine sitting within view, and the oompaloompas weren't nice and fun but rather emotionless and vacant. At least there weren't 6 people watching me while I fulfilled the "urine" portion of the examination. Getting blood drawn was like I expected – the nurses didn't really give a fuck about your concern with needles, so I did the classic "cowardly look away" maneuver.

After a good hour of that, it was on to the EKG, Ultrasound, and Sphygmomanometer rooms. I'm pretty sure I remember having monthly sphygmomanometer tests just for fun when I lived in North Carolina. This time was just as fun as it always is, and I of course passed with flying colors. The ultrasound room was odd... I don't know why this was necessary at all. Was I pregnant? The doctors studied the images and verified that I was indeed not. The last room I waited for was the EKG room, something I definitely didn't want to do. First off, this was where that lady did the incomprehendable "shoulder tap" move. I was really pissed about that. Second, I just knew that something was going to go wrong here. No idea why, it was just a feeling. Third, I also knew that during the test, like 5 foreign dudes were going to watch me pull my shirt up and then subsequently watch the entire test being performed. This made the possibility of something going wrong much less attractive, as the test would no doubt take longer.

Well low and behold, the doctor didn't like what she saw in the EKG. Steven told me that I needed to get my blood flowing a little faster so she could try to perform it again. Sick. So I had to do jumping jacks in front of about 15 people standing in "line" waiting for their turn as another person filed in to have their EKG performed. This was awful. And to make it worse, every time I looked over towards the line there was some Albanian dude eyeing me up. After about a minute of this, I'd had enough. I laid on the table, got watched by the Albanian dude some more as I pulled my shirt up for the EKG, and then listened to more Chinese bickering before I was escorted out of the room. To make matters worse, Steven apparently dropped this bomb: "The reason that took so long was, she said that you're heart is lower than most other people's." He said this as if it wasn't news to me, which it definitely was at the time. "Did you know about this?"
"Uhhh no...."
"hmm....Well, the good news is, she signed for your test."
"True." I was still pretty shocked. "OK, so we're done here?"
"Yeah." Thank fucking god. "Now all I need to do is submit this downstairs, and we can head to lunch." Sounds good to me. So, Steven waited in line for about an hour to turn in the forms, long enough for the news of my apparent heart issues and my recently developed prejudice against Albanians to subside.

We left at 11:30pm, 4 hours after we got there. This was definitely the worst thing I've experienced here so far; it was so relieving to be done with it and to go to lunch.

My suggestion: Pizza Hut. These are the third most popular foreign fast food chains here, behind McDonald's and KFC. It's really great to have these here because I can actually get something that tastes exactly like it does in America, namely the pepperoni pan pizza. There's nothing different about it in China, except here it's called "the American Special." They're also very clutch to have because pepperoni is impossible to find here, something that has drastically effected my creativity in the sandwich making department. Anyway I would've ordered exactly this pizza if I were in the US, so I did just that. Steven ordered the weird as hell "surf and turf" pizza, with sushi pieces lining the crust. This is one of their top selling items, so it wasn't exactly "going out on a limb" for him like it would've been for me.

As usual, Pizza Hut wasn't disappointing. The only thing disappointing I learned: there's no free refills in China! For me, this was devastating news. Anyone who's ever eaten at a restaurant with me is probably aware of my affinity for free refills. One time at Salt Works II in NC, I made the waitress refill my drink 7 times. I don't joke around about this stuff.

"So, ready to teach your first class today?" .....What the fuck? This was the second bomb that was dropped on me that day. Hell no I'm not ready. It was 12:30 when he said this, and the class was to start at 2:05.
"Of course... Umm, do we have text books yet?"
"Yeah they're in the office." Got it.

So, all I knew was that I was to teach an hour and a half oral class. I didn't know the structure or the goals of the class, and I had no idea how the textbook was organized and thought out. Needless to say, I was pretty freaked out.

I had a little practice putting together lesson plans in the online course that I took, so I tried to whip one up in the hour that I had. I decided to do the generic "introduce everyone and learn how to introduce others" lesson plan, and I made a list of names for students who might need an English name (so I can say it). Unfortunately, not knowing the theory behind the course material was a major blow to my confidence, and that was not a good thing to happen for my first class. I felt like the first class was going to be very important's where you set the tone for the rest of the year, where habits amongst students and teachers are formed or not formed, and where students make the most assumptions about you and the class. "But, no better way to get used to the water than to jump in the pool, right?" That's what my dad said about it, and it's pretty true I guess...I just got a lot of water in my nose.

I arrived at the class, introduced myself, and wrote a bunch of names on the board for people to select. Congratulations to Dan and Tony, your names were among the few to be selected. The pool water ended up being colder than I thought it would be though... Newsflash to all -- teaching is hard! I tried to teach a lesson but it ended up being really difficult, and I don't know if anyone learned anything. I also didn't understand the levels of each student, because the only student I met before class also happened to be the most proficient speaker. Thus, I spoke my English in a way that was too difficult for the majority of the other students. At the end of the day, though, I learned a lot about the class, and they learned a lot about me. I also had a class under my belt, so there was nothing to be nervous about next time. There was still a lot of room for improvement though. At the least, I could map out a plan for the course -- after all, I finally had access to the materials....

Almost caught up to now...basically, I've just been busy with teaching since then. Theres a few stories for sure tho, so I'll try to write those up as soon as I can.


Garrett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garrett said...

Nice stuff. Sushi on pizza sounds kind of interesting. They need to bring that over here. :)

Here's something random for you if you get bored... I've been messing around with these semi-complicated programming problems lately in an attempt to learn Perl (awesome language). I came to this problem and am getting a little stumped. Obviously, brute forcing it is easy to program, but it would take a few days of computation to finish, so I'm trying to do it intelligently.

Right now, I have a decent algorithm that finds the first 2 million primes for reference, then finds all of the prime factors of each of these "triangle" numbers, but it takes a decent bit of time to go from "prime factors" to "divisors" because of the crazy combinations that it has to do.

Is there some probability model that would tell me how many divisors I could get from a given set of primes or something that I haven't figured out yet? I found out that if the primes are unique (i.e., no repeats), the number of divisors is 2^x, where x = # of primes... but if you have a prime that is in there more than once, that model fails.

Btw, don't feel obliged to answer this if you are busy, I'm just dicking around with things at work while it's slow. I'll figure it out one way or the other, just figured you may enjoy this sort of thing too :P.

Evan said...

YES, thank you for this garrett. I will start workin on some ideas now, I need to "exercise" my algebra skills for sure. As im sure ur aware, primes have always been very mysterious...studying them is crazy as hell, especially when you are no longer studying prime numbers and are studying "primes," i.e. elements which cannot be the product of two other elements in a set....let me see if i can come up with something

Oh, and would you mind explaining the following to the readers: Why would calculating this by brute force take a few days? (You don't have to be really exact, just sum it up in like 2 sentences. This would win me a debate that I had in a van ride with my entire frisbee team two years ago.)

Garrett said...

Sure, I'll give it a shot... Basically, if you wanted to brute force this, you'd need to go through every triangle number and try to divide each triangle by every number that is less than half of it and see if it divides evenly. It may not seem that bad, but when you are looking for a number with 500 different divisors, you're talking about an 8-digit number, so it's a TON of computation.

When you get to a number over 1000, you start trying 500 different divisions and tallying up the number of times the remainder comes up as 0... when you reach 10000, you're talking 5000 divisions. 8 digit numbers = tons and tons of divisions. Divisions are fairly slow to compute compared to other basic operations, by the way.

Similarly, there was a problem earlier on that website where it asked me to sum up every prime # under 2 million... I originally searched for higher primes by dividing each new number by every already known prime. Again, division = killer, so this took a few hours to run. As I mentioned in the last post, I now have an algorithm that gives me this solution in ~4 seconds. The new method I'm using only does additions, so it's MUCH faster.

A little longer than you wanted, but hopefully it gets the right idea across (and maybe gives you some ideas of where to go in optimizing this new one, since I can't really think of a good way to get divisors of a given number quickly).

I ended up running a slightly optimized algorithm for the triangle problem over night at work, and I got the answer, but I still want to get an algorithm that runs in under 10 minutes... preferably under 1 minute (if perl can possibly manage such).

Anonymous said...

"Steven told me that I needed to get my blood flowing a little faster so she could try to perform it again. Sick."

Dude amazing I am really glad this is being incorporated into your Birdisms.


Andrew said...

Primes or prime numbers or whatever are a way different problem than the seven degrees of separation. First of all, there isn't any division in the seven degrees of separation problem. It's simply a yes or no answer for any two elements in the set. Second of all, you're not really searching for certain elements that fit a given set of criteria, you're simply comparing a bunch of elements that are already fully defined.

The reason you've gone two years without proving your point is that you don't really have a point.