Thursday, October 05, 2006

Merry Moon Day

This week is the Chinese National Day holiday, signifying the creation of the People's Republic back in 1949. For me the holiday means that I get to sit in pleasant cafes and do my work rather than sit in the office. A relaxed change of pace for the week, though somehow it seems almost over before it's begun. This is partly due to the fact that I was called into the office on Sunday, when I'd planned to make a Beijing excursion, to discuss progress on one of the current projects. The outcome of the meeting was that we're still attempting many different avenues for the problem we're tackling but as is often the case in such research, we just can't get solutions to our equations yet. This is one of the frustrating times of such research. We've taken some physical principle which we understand, even if in a slightly abstract way, and translated it into mathematics. The problem then is to manipulate the mathematics until you get an answer which can then be analysed and reinterpreted in the language of physics. The intermediate step is a frustrating one because you're often not learning anything new about the physics, simply manipulating equations. Still, in such cases it's got to be done and we seem to be moving in the right direction.

In fact, in between the work this week I've managed to take in a few holiday sights. Tiananmen is currently awash with flowers and fountains in celebration of the foundation and these flowers are part of several sculptures, this year marking the coming of the Olympics, the completion (or near completion) of the three valleys dam project and finally a reproduction of the palace at Lhasa to mark the completion of the Beijing-Lhasa train. Wherever there were no flowers on Tiananmen there were people, out with their families and snapping photos at all possible angles, a few with me in to contrast my height with that of various women who wanted a picture with the lanky foreigner.

From there, via a three hour, five bus tour unsuccessfully going to an outdoor music festival we ended up at Houhai lake, drinking beer, eating spicy duck neck and dangling our feet over the embankment. Photos from this and Tiananmen to follow when I'm not in such a rush. On our way back we stopped off at one of the few restaurants serving true old-Beijing style food and gave dou zhi a go. This is probably Beijing's most famous old-style snack though few who aren't real Beijingers will go near it. It's a grey/green warm liquid with the consistency of slightly gone off cream and the smell of stilton mixed with a light vinegar. It's fermented mung bean milk and some love it. It's pretty hard to swallow as it tastes a lot stronger than it smells, stimulating several areas of the mouth which rarely get tickled. Though I could only manage a few sips it was actually quite tasty, just a bit too overpowering on a first attempt. I'm told that it should be accompanied with pickled vegetables which I can imagine would make the whole thing a bit easier. It did make me yearn for some good strong cheese which I plan on getting as soon as I can find a good source.


I'm still a member of several forums for foreigners here which I joined when I first arrived, having no other way to meet people of similar interests. Though I haven't been on them for a good six months I get the occasional message through them and last week an Indian woman got in contact with me, asking for some advice on the city. Having guided her via the web through a few Beijing hotspots, we met up on Friday evening in Houhai and spent a fun few hours talking about everything from mingling with the stars (she used to look after bands, Sting, Michael Jackson, etc. when they came to Bombay) to string theory to couch surfing and more, over some fine Beijing beer and stewed frog. She's in Beijing training people in a computer company in communication skills which turns out to offer some interesting insights into the thought processes of those working in the company. A good change for me as at the moment I'm generally pretty snowed under with work to meet new people other than through hosting them in my apartment.


Yesterday was another surprise which made me even more impressed with the Dashanzi art district, which I spoke about in detail here. Not only are there 50 of the most exciting galleries I've ever visited in this amazing site but I now find that the turn around time for the artists is very quick, meaning that if you go back to the area one month later, you're likely to see a completely different selection. I believe that many of the artists live in or around Dashanzi and the exhibitions roll round once every few weeks. Some really fine work this time from highly abstract to super-realist via a performance artist in a small room, alone who wanted people to sit next to her while she put a small drop of blood on a stamp and put the blood on whoever wanted to take part in the performance. We were the only people in the room, my friend declined the offer but I wanted to know more and so asked her what the significance of it all was. The answer unfortunately was lost on me (though she was a native English speaker) and so without knowing what it was all for, I too declined, feeling that such conceptual art is often, though not always, just as powerful in the concept as the action. Indeed my friend was rather shaken by the whole thing despite the fact that we'd seen no blood and everything had been discussed rationally and calmly. There may at some point in the near future be some concept art on this site, via my mother who is currently part way though an art degree. (There's a fine report of a video installation in Hull over at Trouble On Westbourne from September 22, worth a read too.)

OK, I'm in the office because I have no internet at home these days so I shall take a wonder to a local cafe and mull over those equations some more...


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the review, Biscuit. Had beans last night and they were stringy - do they feature in your equations? If not, they should do.

Unknown said...

If it's related to food, it's usually in my equations.

Benjamin said...

Thanks for the link, Jonathan. Belatedly, a Merry Moon Day to you x

Anonymous said...

As you're growing up as a teenager, there are a number of things that you look forward to; getting your drivers

license, graduating from high school, going to your senior prom, having your first date and having your first beer.

The problem with this last one is that the drinking age and the thing you want make it something that you just can't

have yet. And still, you want it and will go to any lengths to get it.

Underage beer drinking is certainly no secret and to try to sweep it under the carpet isn't going to make it go

away. But the most odd thing about underage drinking when it comes to beer is that even after kids sneak their first

beer, they still want to have another one. If you're wondering why that sounds so strange then you need to think

back to when YOU had your first beer. It was pretty nasty tasting. Let's be honest, beer is bitter and is an

acquired taste. Very few people, if any at all, enjoyed their first beer. Many even get sick after it because of the

taste or the fact that they're not used to the alcohol yet.