Saturday, November 05, 2005

So as I sit here writing my first blog post since leaving Oxford for the big Chinese adventure, I eagerly await the next two years. My plane has just landed in Beijing and outside my room the rain is falling and the smog of pollution is enough to make your skin oily and grubby in just a few moments. A secretary from the department came to pick me up from the airport and take me to where I will be living...so tell us I hear you say, what is Beijing like on your first day there...well there's a minor problem. I'm currently sitting in the Jury's Inn five minutes drive from Heathrow. My plane has indeed landed, unfortunately I was not on it. Having booked my ticket in September, come October they decided to change the Wednesday flight times to 13.10 from 16.50. My travel agent who should have informed me of this minor alteration failed to do so and so is paying for my accomodation and inconvenience. As I arrived at Heathrow at 13.10 and the BA staff stumbled around trying to work out why my ticket said 16.50, it was all I could do to laugh at the hiccup that is the beginning of jonstraveladventures. I'm booked on the same flight tomorrow and have e-mailed the Secretary in Beijing to inform her of the changes. Unfortunately because of the time changes she will not get this e-mail until she turns up panicked in the department wondering how the tall man with the big nose could have blended into the crowd and been missed so easily. A farce indeed and it gives me just a little longer to get myself into a state of nervous worry about what oddities await. I shall keep you posted.

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I guess I wrote that about 36 hours ago. It's now 7.50 and I'm in the office...in Beijing. Finally I arrive and somehow what I've seen so far is just as I expected though no let down by any means.

Arriving at the airport, the second I stepped out of the plane, the pollution hit me. At the moment the visibility is down to about 200 yards but this should pick up a bit through the day. I was met by the secretary from the department and driven first to my apartment which is on the fourth floor of a 15-20 story block in the middle of the accommodation campus which is a crazy place in itself. We then went to the department where I was duly shown to everybody and then headed for lunch with the head and a few others. We went to the VIP lounge in the dining hall and, though I had eaten breakfast not long ago, had a feast. This included some seriously fresh fish which I heard sploshing about in a bucket as they bought it to our table to ask if it was OK before cooking it. Had a decent chat with the head and it looks like the next two years are going to be both very hard work, but if all works out, extremely rewarding. For those who've heard of these things, they're trying to model the next few years of the department on the KITP institute in the states which runs long courses on very high level maths and physics.

Not only is the world string theory conference in this department next year but they are getting some pretty eminent people out just about every week. Arriving tomorrow is Sheld0n Glashow, winner of the 1979 Nobel prize for physics along with Abdus Salam and Steve Weinberg. The piece of work for which they were awarded the prize is one of the most important pieces of the theoretical physics discovered this century. The theory they came up with was the unification of the weak and electromagnetic forces into a single force. Anyway, it should be very interesting to meet him and though I don't believe he's currently active in his research, it will be interesting to see what he's up to now.

So, my apartment is larger than I expected but there are a few downsides to it. It's currently pretty cold and I can't get the water above body temperature which is a pain. I've been told I'll be able to get broadband up and running soon so hopefully skype is on the cards. There are a fair number of facilities on the vast campus and I'll hopefully check them out soon. I managed to go shopping yesterday in some of the campus shops, in Chinese no less and came back with pretty much what I wanted. So far I've only found one cockroach but this doesn't bother me too much. I've got a small kitchen though I doubt I'll be using it that much as food is so cheap to buy from the street. Not sure what I ate this morning but it was very tasty.

The other thing of particular note was that I finally had a chance to see what surprises Tim and Adam had got me for my leaving present. They had given me a 1GB USB stick with 'stuff' on it which I was only allowed to look at once I arrived. I had a look last night and unsurprisingly it's superb, with a video message, photos, games, mp3s and some more scurrilous material which I could only expect from the likes of Inman and Cherry. I'll hopefully put some of the photos on the blog as, several thousand miles from home yesterday, they bought a big grin to my face. Many thanks guys.

Anyway, we've got a meeting this morning at 9 (meetings every Saturday morning!) so I shall have to head off soon but will hopefully put some photos of the apartment and surrounding area on ASAP.

2 comments:

Daisuke Yamada said...

I'm glad that you got there
without hitch (well, you obviously
had some). The story of fish
made my mouth watered. Hearing
about the pollution is dissapointing. Have a good time
with Glashow.

Mr Cherry said...

Well I must say I did laugh out loud when Tim told me your flight time was brought forward without you knowing.
So how is it? Are there loads of takeaway English restaurants? Have you found a wife yet?
All the best, glad you like the present.