Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wuhan Adventures

It turns out that there is an occasion on which it's a luxury to get up at 5.30 in the morning. That is when you've miscalculated and thought that you had to get up at 4.30 in the morning...and so, with a reasonable amount of sleep I started a rather long but interesting day, heading to the airport before a two hour flight to Wuhan, in Hubei province. Wuhan is known for a few things but one of them I was told with a grin, as soon as I landed, is the heat. Wuhan is one of the 'three furnaces' of central China, the others being Chongqing and Nanjing. Early morning it was 32 and just got hotter and hotter through the day, getting to around 36 or so by mid afternoon. It seems that Wuhan does have a fascinating 3500 year history but this time I didn't get to see any of this. The university itself (HuaZhong Normal university) is set on a hillside and its 100+ year old grounds are filled with woodland, making it a rather pleasant place to walk around (or at least it would if the air temperature were significantly less than body temperature).

I was in Wuhan to give a talk at a workshop on quark/gluon plasmas, not something that I've worked on but a subject I'd like to learn more about. In fact this is a topic which some of the grad students in the ITP here in Beijing are working on and I have meeting schedule for this afternoon to chat about this topic. Unfortunately, because of various pressing matters in Beijing at the moment I wasn't able to attend any of the other talks at the workshop. As it had been arranged just a few days before I was due to talk, they slotted me in first for a two hour seminar which was a pedagogical introduction to my research. An hour and a quarter or so introducing the AdS/CFT correspondence and the rest of the time talking about meson spectroscopy and future directions. There's currently some interesting work concerning high density/temperature physics from AdS/CFT which would have been right up their street but as yet I'm in no position to talk about this.

So, I gave the seminar for a couple of hours and got a lot of good questions from enthusiastic people who really want to learn about this stuff so that they can start doing research in it. Nice to have a really receptive audience. After a glug of tea I rushed back to the airport to catch the flight to Beijing. At the time the sky was darkening, though I couldn't work out what direction the ominous clouds were coming from. As soon as we got in the air this became pretty obvious. As we got above the main cloud-line, a perfectly flat sea as far as the horizon, we were reduced to a tiny speck in a chaotic sky. Though the main cloud line was flat, on top of this ocean were dozens and dozens of anvil shaped cumulonimbus, the biggy when it comes to clouds, and I've never seen any looking so stereotypically shaped. The plane seemed tiny as, with the setting sun, the anvils lit up like smoked out greenhouses full of firecrackers. Each one a fizzling, crackling storm cloud with constant activity. It's difficult to get any sense of perspective so I don't know how close we were but there were enough of these amazing beasts around to make it all rather exciting.

Though we swayed and avoided each of the storm clouds it was clear that there were major updraughts causing some serious turbulence and the next hour was a rather treacherous one with airhostesses looking ever so slightly worried. This turbulence kept us firmly glued in our seatbelts and meant that I didn't have time to get the camera out.

Yesterday the air hostess were doing a wonderful job and I've no idea how they keep their cool in the situations they encounter. I'm not talking about the active weather patterns I've been flying through recently but the passengers themselves. The flight out to Wuhan was delayed and several angry, sweaty businessmen were not happy with the situation and spent the time we were delayed on the ground either shouting at the air hostesses or grumbling to the rest of the passengers. The hostesses kept level headed and didn't seem phased by this at all, simply ignoring what they couldn't answer politely. On the way back , despite the usual announcements, a man got up as the rear wheels of the plane touched down, got his bag and started making a call on the phone. Perhaps I'm a little over sensitive but I always think that a plane is one place that obeying the rules is a pretty good idea. Another ten passengers standing up as the engines were still thrusting in reverse got the hostesses walking briskly but never raised their voices to the shout that I'd probably let out in their situation. Anyway, everyone arrived safely and relatively unabused.

I need to get on with some work again. I've got my first ever student to supervise who is proving receptive and (no surprise here in China) very hard working. We've got a fun project started now on AdS/QCD which I will talk about when it's appropriate.

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