Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Beijing snapshot

The department is virtually empty at the moment, as is the city, and I'm working on a couple of papers which have been dragging on for way too long. The work itself is extremely interesting, but ironing out the numerical niceties is beginning to be rather tiresome. Sadly, without these niceties it's much harder to put across our results. Still, I've learned that motivation goes through surges and ebbs, and I'm not worried that the current situation isn't perfect for the work. We'll have these done soon enough and then be onto the next set of calculations...

In the mean time, to continue the updates from my journey:

On the day of the eclipse in Wuhan I headed to the train station, not knowing where I was heading next. I turned up, waited in the queue and pondered where to go. By the time I got to the front of the line I figured that I could just make it to Beijing and back to Shanghai in time to catch my flight which would give me a few days back home (Beijing home) to see friends and go check out some old haunts. It turned out that the only tickets left were for the next morning, which I took and booked myself into a cheap hotel close to the station. I spent a few hours wondering around Wuhan, reading in cafes and snacking on streetfood before heading back and catching my train the next morning.

Train rides in China are good for either practicing your Chinese or getting a good way through a thick book, but such options are exclusive and I ended up talking to those around me for the ten hours of the journey. I arrived in the evening and took the metro back to my old stomping ground and indeed my old building where I was staying with a friend. Plenty of old faces greeted me and I had a nice chat with the dumpling lady who was still there, still hand rolling the same flavours that had been there since I arrived four years ago, before heading up to meet old friends.

The three full days in Beijing passed very quickly but I had a chance to pop into the physics department and meet with the head of department, my old boss, about the program I'm organising for next year (more on this soon). I also met many of the graduate students I'd known before which is always a pleasure. It's good to see the progress they make when you come back only once a year.

On the second afternoon I walked up to the electronics district (Zhongguancun) to see if I could find a piece of kit for my camera. On the way I passed my favourite restaurant, a simple place with fantastic Hunan food: big fish head, mapo dofu, black bean bitter gourd and spicey pork dishes being some of the best I ever ate in China. Sadly my restaurant was no more and the dozen or so establishments which used to feed me most nights of the week along the same stretch had vanished, the space being readied for another anonymous block of high-rises.

My favourite restaurant, Beijing

Further along, where the demolition has not yet been felt I came across an English academy which I don't believe I'd seen before and one of the most ironic pieces of Chinglish I've had the pleasure of seeing:
Talenty English, talenty translator
Another piece of Chinglish I wish I'd had the piece of mind to photograph was no a T-shirt of a woman selling clothes on the streets of Wudaokou. The T-shirt was emblazoned with a Union Jack, under which in bold letters was written "New York, New York". Sometimes it's hard to tell how much of it is a double bluff. 

On arrival at zhongguancun it became clear that the item I wanted was out of my price range, but one of the enthusiastic salesmen wouldn't let me go before I gave him an hour's English lesson - I'm surprised that I haven't been barraged with e-mail questions from him since, though that may be because I recommended he make his way to Talenty English!

Anyway, after a few short days in Beijing I got back on the train and headed another ten hours down to Shanghai. This trip used to take 16 hours and within a year or so will take just four when a very high speed track (300km/h+) will be finished, linking the two East China hubs. A lot of Chinese infrastructure sure puts that of it's British and Spanish counterparts to shame, though the reasons behind such advances are simple and often sad.

Anyway, I should have the last instalment tomorrow night, and then we're back on dry land in not so sunny Spain.


dave said...

I'm sorry our paths didn't cross in Beijing. I hope to be there next summer -- perhaps we will overlap then. btw, here is a google map I made of the ITP/CAS neighborhood, including a bunch of my favorite neighborhood restaurants. "The Raissa Resturant" is excellent and a very good deal. It looks like the google maps satellite image has been updated quite recently, as it shows the active construction areas on the western part of the CAS campus.

toomanytribbles said...

makes me want to go back to a --short-- visit :D