save the trees


Tree removal is always a ugly, touchy topic.  Whenever trees need to be removed in a project, by no fail, there will be someone upset about it.  People sit in trees for days in hammocks eating granola, people will make posters and stand loyally by trees, people will honk angrily at staff cutting down trees (like in this article)…But why?  Why all the anger?  I think that this heated issue of tree removal is an example that can be related to a much bigger topic of why we should analytically think about the reasons why we get emotional.  Let me explain.

There are a million reasons of why people get upset about trees being cut down.  What I am curious is the root of the reason (pun intended).  Will the removal of the tree decrease the quality of the person’s daily life?  Does the removal of the tree go against their beliefs or values?  Or does the removal of the tree symbolize something much bigger, such as the fear for change?

Whatever the reason is, it is crucial to identify it.  Emotion is powerful, but also consumes energy for the person feeling it and receiving it.  If you can’t back up why you are emotional about something, then why expend your energy in feeling an unjustifiable emotion?  If we are able to analyze a feeling we have and be able to identify the core of “why am I feeling this way?”, then we can be much more efficient in what we communicate to others, what we contribute to the world, and conserving our energy for doing a number of other productive things.

Now, to circle back to tree removal, here’s my opinion on the issue from the perspective of a landscape architect.  For a little context, the thought that sparked all this was that some street trees downtown are being removed and residents are unhappy.  To being with, humans placed a tree in an urban environment–a very hostile environment for a tree.  The tree is encased in asphalt which heats the roots, have very confined and minimal soil area =  little oxygen and nutrients for the roots to absorb, people step and compact the soil at the base of the trunk in urban environments which can suffocate the tree, the tree could be hit by a car, the tree often has no understory for moisture retention, and so on.  The average urban street tree has a life span of 7 years.  It is only 7 years because an urban environment is often a very undesirable habitat for a tree!  And we, humans, forced it there for our own selfish reasons.  Now, if we are again removing a tree for our own selfish reasons, tree planting and tree removal are essentially of same value, and therefore completely neutral.

Now for a shameless plug, this is all coming from a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project that I am part of along with my firm and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).  We helped design planting areas and streetscape/urban design along the 6 mile cooridoor that will help connect San Jose to Santa Clara and ultimately all the way up to Palo Alto, with limited stop rapid bus service.  They have already broken ground and is projected for completion fall 2015!


Photo credit


every breath i take

{ Rem Koolhaas building in Beijing’s CBD }

I knew that the air quality in Beijing was poor, even before I came here.  But recently, as our days have been hotter and more humid, I really started to see it in the air and feel the effects on my breathing.  The other day, I went to go play soccer at Olympic Forest Park with my colleagues.  After a couple of hours outside, I couldn’t take a deep breath without coughing.  Red flag.  This really scared me.

So, I consulted the internet.  Let’s compare Eugene and Beijing’s air quality.  Today, Eugene has ozone pollution with an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 18, which is categorized as “Good”.  As of 13:00 today, Beijing has PM2.5 pollution (Particle Matter less than 2.5 micrometers–these fine particles can stay in your lungs) with an AQI of 368 which is categorized as “Hazardous”.  Yikes.  Not only are the numbers alarming, but me, Shawn, and Ratana are really feeling it too.  Feeling shortness of breath, coughing, and slight headache.  Right now, I definitely miss the Eugene air.

{ view from our apartment right now }

Sources: Eugene air, Beijing air

great wall of china

Even before I came to China, the Great Wall was definitely on my travel bucket list.  It’s pretty amazing to think the massive stone structures have been with us for over 2,000 years.  Shawn, Ratana, and I made it to the Great Wall–Badaling in the end of May.  Badaling is the most frequented and representative portion of The Wall.  Having said that, it’s an understatement when I say it was CROWDED.  From afar, the Wall looked like a sea of heads and sun umbrellas.  Even in May, we were incredibly hot, baking on the wall with no shade.  Despite the overwhelming social experience, the views didn’t cease to amaze us—the wall endlessly meandering into the mountainous horizon, leaving me with a profound sense of raw human strength.

{ heading into the mountains }

{ the entrance }


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work: olympic forest park

{ morning exercise }

Last week, we put in a good number of hours at Olympic Forest Park for work.  THUPDI is participating in Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Landscape Performance Series case studies.  The case studies are real, built projects that are analyzed on many levels such as social and ecological benefit, and economic cost to objectively quantify the sustainability of the site.  And for us, this meant asking park visitors their experiences in the park and observing how people use the space.  I think it’s interesting and important to follow up on projects—often not done enough in our practice.  Needless to say, the excitement in the process wore off after the first day, battling mosquitoes (which I’ve had bad reactions to) and 90-degree weather.  So by the third day we made it fun by eating watermelon, drinking iced cappuccinos, and playing Chinese checkers in the park.

{ walking his birds — a Beijing tradition }

{ saturday picnic }

{ midday rest }

{ evening dancing }

{ surveying in the sunset }

high and dry

{ Ratana, Shawn, and I master planning with our project manager }

Last month, my work  primarily has been working on the Benxi Hot Spring Hotel project.  Our site lies in the mountains, and our client wants to develop a piece of agricultural land into a luxury hot spring hotel accompanied by lodges and future permanent villas.  Along with my colleagues at THUPDI, Dave and I spent hours upon hours figuring out seemingly impossible grading issues, answering challenging client requests, outdoor hot spring pool areas, and designing villa gardens.  The architect for the hotel is Gary Anderson, AIA from Ai Architects based in Boston.  Back in the end of April, Gary made a trip to Beijing and Dave, Gary, and Professor Hu even made a trip to the site to discuss design and contract with the client.  We were working hard and moving fast.

 Then, a few weeks ago, the client decides to cancel the contract completely.  And just like that, the project ends.  I can’t help but feel a little lost, putting in a lot of effort into something that ended (for now) fruitlessly.  In China work moves fast, but it seems can end just as quickly, too.

internet matters

I have a confession to make.  Yes, my blog writing has fallen to the wayside, and my posts have been sporadic, I’ve been busy with work and fun-filled weekends exploring Beijing, yadda, yadda.  Nothing new here.  But I do have a real, legitimate reason why.  The internet is s…l…o…w.

China has a plethora of websites that are censored and blocked–including Facebook, some news websites, flickr, blogs, and you guess right, this blog on  So how do I even update this blog you ask?  The magic that is “VPN”, which stands for Virtual Private Network.  I’m conveniently using University of Oregon’s VPN system.  From my understanding, it basically connects to UO’s internet system in the U.S. through the existing wireless I have in my Chinese apartment.  So, because I’m not on the “Chinese wireless”, I’m free to roam the internet, free as a bird.

But connecting to a foreign system also makes the slow internet in China even slower, which means I often end up staring at the spinning blue icon with “connecting…” for longer than anyone would like.

So, there you have it.  If you come to China, you can get a VPN from here or here.

roller coaster

No, I have not been riding roller coasters at amusement parks, but my day today at work almost felt like one.  Since yesterday, Shawn and I have been assigned to a new project.  Well, we’re not really sure if we’re in the project, or just helping them with some last minute changes, since the project has gone on for a year.  Nonetheless, today seemed like we spent a few hours doing one task (“the client wants a small stream here.”), then upon completing the task, having to do another change (“actually we want waterfalls in the stream.”), then finishing said task and upon approval having another change (“actually we want to go into more detail and you need to choose the materiality and do a section cut too.”).

To top it off, we were told we would be doing some field work in collecting data on the current state of Olympic Forest Park.  No problem.  But within the last 24 hours, this plan has changed from a) going today, to b) going Friday, to c) going tomorrow–and getting the news at 9:00pm, mind you.  All these factors have made work this week feel quite chaotic and unstable.  I suppose there are many factors that contribute to this, but perhaps the incredible speed that projects move forward, miscommunication due to fast design, and oh, the fact that I work in a Chinese-language environment can sometimes put glitches in the system.  On the upside, I feel like by the end of my experience I’ll be an expert at responding to just about any kind of lemons life throws at me.