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June 2008

Goodbye, Chongqing

Picture_018 The conference wrapped up yesterday, and I thought I'd post a few final remarks before leaving Chongqing.

First, I want to mention how impressed I was by the Chinese researchers, especially the students, who had to give their presentations in English.  Presenting your work at an international conference can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, but to do it in a very foreign language is something else all together. 

Also, I apologize for any strange formatting or errors in these blog posts, but I've been working blind this week.  Though I can access the typepad site, the blog itself is behind the Great Firewall and blocked from view in China.  That explains why no one stopped me to say 'hi' in the convention center. 

Many thanks to the conference organizers for their heroic efforts in putting this meeting together, and thanks to all the attendees who made it a great scientific event.  I had a great time and certainly hope this isn't my last trip to China.

For now, zai jian!

Cultural differences

There are a few things I’ve noticed at this conference that I think must be chalked up to cultural differences. One is the aggravating presence of cell phones in the meeting rooms, a topic I’ve griped about before on this blog. They are a problem at any conference, but here it is an issue of a whole different scale. During a given 15 minute talk as many as ten cell phone rings, chirps and beeps may interrupt the speaker. People here favor loud, peppy ring tones and sometimes a phone will get through a couple of ring cycles before the owner gets around to turning it off. One speaker was even interrupted three times during his talk by his own phone! It doesn’t seem to bother people much (except me) although one esteemed professor had to ask that a particularly loud, recurring ring be turned off after the second interruption.

Another annoyance is the shockingly large number of people who fail to appear for their own talks. Some sessions are almost comical as the chairperson runs down the list of scheduled speakers, trying to find someone, anyone, to give a presentation. There has been much speculation about the reason for it, but whatever the cause it must ultimately be a cultural difference as I haven’t come across the phenomenon anywhere else. (To be fair, a couple of the no-shows in sessions I attended were from the US, and one from South Africa.)

On a positive note, there is a much better gender ratio here than at the US meetings. Science appears to be a more popular career choice for young Chinese women than it is for Americans and if I had to guess I'd say that out of the Chinese students here, almost half are female. People say that China is the future, and in this case I certainly hope they are correct.

View from the river

After two long days of meetings and posters, conference attendees went out for a relaxing boat cruise on the river Tuesday evening.  Shown in the photo are a group of student volunteers from Chongqing who've been helPicture_015_2ping organize the event. The cruise included yet another luscious spread of food, the kind of thing participants are getting used to after the incredible lunch buffets offered each day.

A river cruise is really the only way to get a sense of scale for Chongqing, as the city extends along the banks of the Yangtze and the Jianling Rivers for several miles of skyscrapers, elevated roadways, and buildings that seemed to be piled on top of each other in a mad jumble.  At night many of the buildings are illuminated with brightly colored, flashing lights, and massive digital billboards light up with Chinese characters several stories tall. 

Picture_018_2The conference kicked off this evening with registration and a welcome reception featuring a buffet and opening remarks from the organizers.  This is the first time the MRS has held a joint meeting in a foreign country and from talking to those involved it sounds like the organization has been no small feat.  Roughly 70% of the speakers are from China and the rest hail from all over the world.  Many are from the US, but glancing through the program I also see speakers from South Africa, Malaysia, India, France, UK, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Mexico, Spain and Japan.  Judging from the reception, the majority of the attendees are Chinese and most appear to be students, though that may just be the universal ability of free food to conjure up grad students. 

Earlier in the day I had a fantastic time wandering around Chongqing, getting completely lost in bustling markets and winding alleyways.  True to what I’d been led to believe, the food from street vendors is awesome and spicy.  I’ve included a photo of me with a bit of the city in the background, so if you recognize me at the conference be sure to say hello.

Anticipating Chongqing meeting

Next week China hosts the first joint MRS/China-MRS meeting in Chongqing and I'll be there blogging it and providing coverage for the MRS Meeting Scene.  I'm a graduate student in the Materials department at UC Santa Barbara, and this is my second appearance on the MRS blog.  My first run was during the Spring meeting last March and I'm happy to be back as a guest blogger.

Located next to Sichuan province in central China, Chongqing is quite close to the site of the devastating earthquake of May 11th.  Shortly after the quake the conference organizers announced that the meeting would continue as planned and that Chongqing was relatively unaffected by the disaster.  Even so, the proximity of this tragedy will surely be apparent at the conference and I imagine that many participants will be moved to donate money or assistance to the relief efforts.  For those interested, the conference website has a page on earthquake relief opportunities recommending agencies for donation.