Hailing Taxis

When I was little, taxis were my favorite form of transportation. I could have my own seat in the taxi, and the taxi would go directly to the destination. I would not need to walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, get squeezed in the bus, and walk to the destination after getting off the bus. In early 1990s, taxi fare of a 5KM trip was about 30 times the bus fare. However, I didn't understand the value of money at that time, so I always wanted to travel by taxi.

I started attending a boarding school since the seventh grade. Mom would give me ¥65 every week, and I was allowed to spend the money however I wish, but this money was all I have for meals, transportation, and anything else except books and school supplies. While I could spend ¥5 to take a taxi from the bus terminal to the school, I usually chose to walk 20 minutes and save the money for snacks. I got used to bus rides and long walks, and forgot about taxis, when money became a constraint. In fact, I got so used to public transportation that, even if I was on a business trip when I later worked for a company, I would prefer to take a bus instead of a taxi, and I sometimes had to explain to finance why I could not produce a receipt for a bus ride.

When I came to Tucson in 2011, having limited cash and being accustomed to public transportation, my primary form of transportation is of course the city bus. However, the operating hours of city buses are limited. When I stayed in Grant Inn during my first days, the last route 20 bus from UA campus back to Grant Inn was departing at 18:20. If I wanted to stay at school later than that, I would have to find my alternate transportation.

Clint's Taxi

When I was dropped off at Grant Inn, the volunteer gave each student a business card of "Clint's Taxi", and told us to call Clint when we need to go to school. Since buses are cheaper, I took the city bus most of the time. On Aug 14, 2011, I attended a "Campus Race" scavenger hunt activity, organized by an organization called Meet The World, which later became International Student Association (ISA). The activity lasted until 20:00, at which point there were no more buses available. This was when I called Clint for the first time.

Behind the Wheel

Sun Tran bus system was my primary form of transportation during my six years at University of Arizona, but it wasn't my only transportation. Sun Tran services city of Tucson, city of South Tucson, and select areas out of city limits. When I needed to go beyond the service boundary, or to haul cargo, it makes sense to get my own set of wheels.

I decided not to buy a car during graduate school early on. When I attended my first "grad tea", a social event among computer science grad students, I asked an American student the cost of owning a car, and the answer was $200 per month including "everything". A simple calculation indicated that owning a car would not be a good financial decision for me. Owning a car would allow me to rent an apartment far from the campus, but it is unlikely to find an apartment that is cheaper than $439/mo NorthPointe.

Zipcar Nissan Altima Brenton

Arizona Driver's License

Fast forward to spring 2014, when my life at NorthPointe went downhill due to a noisy roommate. I signed a lease at my new apartment, and moving was put on the agenda. I moved from Grant Inn to NorthPointe on a taxi, at which time all I had was two checked bags and two carry-on bags. Three years later, I had accumulated many more things than that, and the taxi driver would be charging by minute while I'm loading my stuff into his trunk. Thus, I need a driver's license!

My Story with Sun Tran

Tucson is a "small" town. Compared to my hometown Shanghai, Tucson is 10 times smaller in land area, and has 3% of Shanghai's metro population. Nevertheless, Tucson is still the second largest city in Arizona. You can't reasonably walk to everything, so transportation is a necessity.

America is a country on wheels, but Tucson has a nice public transportation system, Sun Tran. During my six years at University of Arizona, I never bought a car, but used Sun Tran bus system extensively.

Sun Tran bus 3000

City Bus in Shanghai vs Tucson

American city bus system do not have a good reputation: vehicles are old, schedules are infrequent, and operating hours are limited. Nevertheless, the first transportation service I experienced in Tucson is the city bus, when I visited UA campus for the first time.

Floating in the Pool

As it's said, if a foreign student does not have a girlfriend, he would start physical exercises sooner or later, because he has nothing else to do.

RT @Dtiberium 顺便有个定律:来了美国的中国留学生如果没有女朋友,迟早会开始健身。道理很简单:他们实在没什么别的事情可干。

This is very true of me.

Before I Came to Arizona

When I was an undergraduate student in Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), although the university has a gym, it only has a few treadmills and ellipticals, and students must pay an entrance fee upon each usage. I never went to this gym. There was no swimming pool at SJTU, and a security guard once warned me not to swim in the lake, when I stepped one foot into the lake trying to feel the water temperature.

Roommates or Not?

Food, water, shelter, and warmth are the basic needs of human beings. Food is available in any restaurant and grocery store. Tap water is safe to drink, as I asked at the orientation. Warmth is not an urgent problem when I arrive because I have enough clothes in my luggage. The biggest problem is: housing!

There are two main housing options for University of Arizona students: on campus housing and off campus housing. If I live on campus, I can walk to class and enjoy all the good vibes, but the room is small and costs a ton of money. Thus, during my six years in Arizona, I lived exclusively in off-campus housing. This article describes the two apartments I lived in, shares my experiences of living with or without roommates, and includes reviews of NorthPointe Student Apartments and University Arms Apartments from a real tenant.

How I Evaluate Off-Campus Housing

When I started surveying off-campus housing options, I set a few requirements:

  • I must have my own bedroom. When I was an undergraduate in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, I shared an on-campus dormitory with three other boys. We lived in the same bedroom, went to class together, and were good friends. The dorm manager enforced strict rules such as "lights off" time. However, American off-campus housing has no such strict rules, so sharing a bedroom is going to cause roommate conflicts in the long term, and I'm not really into cohabiting.
  • I want to have my own bathroom. I saw too many TV episodes about how American kids make a mess in the bathroom, or spend too long time in the shower in the morning when I would need to go to class.
  • I prefer to have individual leases. Some property owners would rent out a big house to multiple students on one lease. If any tenant quits, the remaining tenants still must pay the full rent. I would not want to get into such trouble.
  • I can get to school without a car. Owning a car is too much hassle for me.

My First Days in Tucson

Six years ago, on Apr 12, 2011, I was admitted as a PhD student in the Computer Science PhD program at The University of Arizona. After a round of paperwork and an interview for the US visa, I flew from Shanghai, China to Tucson, Arizona on Aug 04, 2011. This was when it all began.

The Flight and Arrival

My uncle bought me an one-way flight ticket. I was booked on United flight 588 departing PVG at 20:10, transfering to United flight 6458 arriving TUS at 21:10. The time difference between Shanghai and Tucson is 15 hours, so this seemingly 1-hour flight route is actually 16 hours.

My dad drove me to the airport, with mom and grandpa also in the car. After saying goodbye to my family, an officer stamped my passport indicating that I had left China territory. I had two checked bags full of clothing and cookware, a duffle bag with more clothes, and a briefcase containing an old laptop. I also had thirteen $100 bills, a few $20 and $10 bills, and several quarter-dollar coins; this was all the cash I had.

say goodbye to grandpa

留学六周年

六年前,在2011年8月4日,我从上海飞赴美国亚利桑那州图森市(Tucson, Arizona),到亚利桑那大学(The University of Arizona)攻读博士学位。 六年后,我已经通过了论文答辩,正在准备毕业。

这些年来,

  • 我作为第一作者在各大学术会议上发表了三篇论文,并且出席了其中一次学术会议演讲了我的论文。
  • 我上了88学分的课程,保持了全A的优异成绩。
  • 我获得了三次奖学金,其中包括科学学院只授予最优秀的学生的Galileo Circle Scholar称号。
  • 我参加了国际学生协会(International Student Association)的社团活动,遇见了一批极棒的朋友,并曾担任该社团的干事。
  • 我开始了定期体育锻炼,包括游泳与负重训练。
  • 作为一项兴趣爱好,我开始了地谜藏宝。
  • 我观看了150余部电影。
  • 我享受了徒步登山、野营、皮划艇等户外运动的乐趣。
  • 我骑自行车或搭乘公共汽车走遍了图森每一个角落,参与了本地的各种节日庆典,并尝试了许多本地的餐馆。
  • 我前往加利福尼亚州、科罗拉多州、哥伦比亚特区、夏威夷州、马萨诸塞州、内华达州、纽约州、宾夕法尼亚州、田纳西州、得克萨斯州、犹他州、华盛顿州旅行。
  • 我考出了亚利桑那州驾驶执照,在波士顿、凤凰城、圣地亚哥、旧金山湾区、西雅图、图森和尤马开过租来的汽车。
  • 作为亚利桑那大学的留学生, 作为图森市的居民, 我感到很自豪。

English version

Six Years in Arizona

Six years ago, on Aug 04, 2011, I flew from Shanghai, China to Tucson, Arizona, and began my life as a PhD student in The University of Arizona. Six years later, I have defended my dissertation, and am on my way to graduation.

During these years,

In this month, I am going to write a series of articles about my life in Arizona, to record the good memories of the past six years.

简体中文版本

How to Survive a Weekend Offline?

I'm a heavy smartphone user. I read emails, access Twitter, check in on Swarm/Foursquare, watch YouTube, and look at weather forecast, multiple times a day. I use smartphones so much that my primary phone, the Nexus 5, needs to be charged 2~3 times per day, and I am reluctant to stay in places without free WiFi.

But, everything is changing in the past weekend: I joined a camping trip to Grand Canyon National Park. There is no electricity. There is no cellular signal, because national parks do not want cell towers to ruin the beautiful landscape. There is no WiFi, except in the cafeteria which we may or may not visit. Without electricity, I cannot keep my smartphones charged. Without cellular or WiFi, I cannot receive emails, access Twitter, check in on Swarm/Foursquare, watch YouTube, or use weather forecast apps. How can I survive the weekend in the national park, without electricity or Internet access?

Preparation

Internet access is unavailable, but it's not the only way to communication with the outside world. On many smartphones, there's a forgotten app called the FM radio, which allows you to receive information without Internet access or cellular signal. Therefore, I packed an old smartphone, the T-Mobile Comet, which has an FM radio tuner. This would allow me to listen to the weather forecast, and maybe some news and music.

My camping trip is a short one: we depart on Friday and return on Sunday. The lack of electricity can be solved by a few USB PowerBanks. I brought two USB PowerBanks, which contain a total of 12800mAh of electricity, enough to charge the Nexus 5 five times, or the T-Mobile Comet ten times.

My Experience at Hack Arizona 2016

Hack Arizona is the largest collegiate hackathon in southwestern United States. I attended Hack Arizona 2016 and had a great experience, and I want to share what I experienced during this event.

Why I didn't attend in 2015

I heard about Hack Arizona when it started in 2015, but I decided against attending last year because 37 sleepless hours is harmful for health and won't produce high quality project.

Many of my friends went in 2015, and they shared their experiences and showed me their projects. The situation sounds less scary than I imagined:

  • Although you are provided enough coffee and Red Bull energy drinks to stay up, you are permitted to leave and re-enter at anytime, and you can sleep in the venue as well.
  • There's free food, and it's not just pizza.
  • Projects aren't of poor quality.