Sins of the Cities of the Plain

An entertaining read, this was written in 1881 and subtitled “The recollections of a Mary-Anne”. It’s not s literary masterpiece, but if goes to show that things haven’t changed that much when it comes to sexual adventure. It did introduce me to a new (old) word Gamahuche.

“Sins of the Cities of the Plain” (Jack Saul)

Mots Pluriels Winn:

To invoke the tradition of gay male literature of the period is to further substantiate claims of the existence of a certain (stereo)type of individual, whose homosexuality was recognisable by his particularly effeminate or dandified appearance. In Britain the first text of such note is the Sins of the cities of the plain [1881]. This disjointed and sexually explicit tale purports to be the autobiography of Jack Saul, a London prostitute who was later to give evidence in the Euston libel case of 1890, part of the Cleveland Street brothel scandal. Much in the narrative seems exaggerated; the sections that deal with the many and various sexual encounters seem to endow the protagonists with almost superhuman lusts. Although extensive in kind, Saul’s sexual experiences—which include transvestism, bondage, flagellation, fellatio and sodomy—are almost exclusively male-to-male and adult in nature.

Going Home

Had the best night’s sleep last night since I arrived in China (viz more than 5 hours). It’s a pity then that were heading home today. Breakfast yesterday and today was a bit of a struggle with a 1:1 ratio of diners to over-attentive waiting staff.

Everything went quickly and smoothly to get us to the air-side of the airport, and so we had three hours to kill. I went a bit mad buying tea, and bought some rather expensive rolled Jasmine tea (US$50) based on the smell and it being this year’s new crop, I also bought some Pu Erh as I’m out of that at home too. So I’m coming home with 5 different types of tea! Bought some moon cakes for Michael and some Oolong Tea-flavoured bean-gum jelly sweets for the office. All the shopping killed a bit of time. Niamh bought a nice tea set for her dad and some moon cakes for the office.

Watched Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer on the plane, and had another vegetarian Asian curry (forgot to try to change my food order until too late). The cauliflower curry came with lovely purri and dhal, so it was a good meal. Tested my laptop batteries writing up e-mail and notes from the trip. I pretty much finished all the actions and writing, which will be a relief when I go back to work on Thursday.

Arrived home about 6.30, which was going going. Michael had a lovely meal and wine waiting for me. Nice to be back!

Two university visits

Chunxiao met us a 8.30 to take us for our morning visit to Tsinghua University. The taxi driver got lost and we had a good tour of the leafy campus, which includes, in part, an old Royal Park. When we found the Chemistry Department we couldn’t find Prof Zhang and it turned out that he’d sent Chunxiao an e-mail the night before that he would have to lecture until 10, so we spent some time going over notes from Xiamen, before meeting Prof Zhang. He was a great character and he gave us a tour of the staff using some poster-profiles on the wall of the Department. We had a good lecture and discussion, then a tour of the Analytical Labs and the Bioanalytical Labs. These were very good and had achieved impressive levels of industrial sponsorship. We were treated to lunch at the University Hotel, which was a ‘simple lunch’ that turned into a banquet, with some lovely spicy dishes.

Niamh and Prof Zhang

Prof Zhang drove us to ICCAS where we met up with Chunxiao again. She’s arranged a good programme for us at ICCAS, and we met Prof Chen and had 50 turn up for our lecture. We had some of the most robust questioning that we’ve received and some good suggestions for ways to improve things. It was the talk that we’ve delivered best, it takes a couple of lectures to get into the patter. Sadly it was our also the last lecture for this trip. We had a tour of the labs and then headed out to No Name Hotel Restaurant, which was a Communist Party party eatery (I think). There were about 10 of us for dinner and the party was very relaxed and good fun.


Sign Says something like: Happiness through Chemistry

Niamh and I had a real sense of relaxation once we got back to the hotel. We said a sad farewell to Chunxiao who had looked after us very well and with great consideration. We had a few beers in the bar relaxing.

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Arrived in Beijing

Flew back from Xiamen to Beijing this morning, the only one of the three of us to stay awake I think! Beijing is about 10°C cooler than Xiamen, a lovely 21°C.

We checked into the Friendship Hotel, where I stayed when we visited a few years ago. It’s recently had a very impressive renovation and the hotel was very smart and glistening with gold and polished marble. The room has an internal glass wall between the bathroom and the bedroom, which is very stylish but a little strange. I found an electric switch to lower a Venetian blind (a modesty screen): I wonder how long it will take that to rust as it is effectively a shower curtain.

Friendship HotelFriendship Hotel

Grabbed a sandwich and some peanuts before we headed off to our first university visit at Peking University and meeting with Prof Shao. We had a whirlwind tour of the department and some of its research, then gave our presentation to about 30 people. We had an interesting discussion and then a fuller tour of the Department. We walked around from there to look at Chunxiao’s smart office in Room 101, Building 5 of the Institute of Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It’s almost like a little flat , with a sofa, fridge and microwave, in addition to the more standard office furniture. It needs to be this comfortable Chunxiao often works till 11pm!

Graham Peking University LectureChunxiao in her ofice

On the way out of the site to get a taxi we met my old boss, Peter Gregory (aka Dr Geography in China) who’d just give a talk very similar to the one we’ll give tomorrow! Amazing to come all the way to China to meet your old boss!

Met up with another business contact in the evening, in the centre of Beijing. The traffic was awful and we were 45 mins late for dinner (they were caught up in traffic too and they were just as late). Had an interesting meal. The food in Beijing is spicier and I think better than the food in Xiamen. We had a good fish, brought out alive in a plastic bag before dinner… We left at 9.30 to try to have a quick visit to Tiananmen Square. The taxi dropped us off right outside Laoshe Tea House, and I took the opportunity to buy some green tea and jasmine tea (including the tea sculptures that you drop in a glass pot), along with a double-walled, glass drinking jar for work. We wandered across from there to Tiananmen Square but unfortunately it was closed off and just closing… The square was getting prepared for the Golden Week festivities starting on Monday. We managed to see a lot though (it’s hard to hide it!) and then took a taxi around the square before heading back to the Friendship Hotel and Chunxiao back to her house.

NIamh and Chunxiao TSq

Tianemen SquareForbidden

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Xiamen University

Spent the morning adding some information from Chunxiao into our presentation and adding new slides for Prospect. Slimmed down other parts and simplified the English. The talk is looking very slick!

When I left the hotel at midday the sun was really shining for the first time and there wasn’t a misty haze over the sky. The heat was pretty intense and the walk to the conference centre felt twice as long as yesteday! Met Niamh, Chunxiao and Les Ebdon for lunch (for the worst of the three airline style meals so far). The conference delegates had this afternoon off for a tour of Gulangyu Island. Niamh, Chunxiao and I headed of to Xiamen University to give our Publishing presentation. There was about 20 people at the talk which was good considering that they had a presentation the day before from a JACS Associate Editor, and there was a parallel presentation today from M. El-Sayed at the same time. Also, many of the professors and students were involved with the CSI meeting.

Niamh PresentationProf Huang, Prof Wan, Niamh, Graham and Chunxiao

Professor Huang, Vice Dean, then gave us a very good tour of the Physical Chemistry Labs and a tour of the Chemistry Faculty, followed by a view of Xiamen from the 21st floor of their Finance Building. With the weather being superb, we got great views all around.

Xiamen Lake View

In the evening we went to the Conference Banquet at the massive Xiamen Shu-You Seafood Restaurant, close to the conference centre. They coped with all 600 of us in one room, which was impressive and there was a small army of staff to keep us all happy. The food came in fits and starts, which caused a couple of tense moments over who would control the direction of the lazy susan! Nice Tsing Tao beer, good white wine (in teeny measures) and Mao Tai filled any food gaps. There were speeches and awards, which were comprehensively talked over by the audience. In the midst of all this Niamh awarded one of the poster prizes and the lucky winner got a year’s subscription to JAAS. Niamh was all ready to give a speech, but was spared by the general prize-giving melee.

Poster Winner

I was impressed that the Ben-Li Huang gave his speech themed around Shakespeare. The meal was lovely, and luckily there was a menu card, so I can say exactly that we had:

  • Assorted Spicy Dishes
  • Roasted Peking Duck (Xiamen Duck apparently)
  • Shredded abalone and sea cucumber soup
  • Pan Fried Prawn (spicy!)
  • Steamed Green Garoupa Fish
  • Steamed Scallops (in their shells)
  • Pineapple Pork
  • Minced Chicken and Sorgo Soup
  • Braised Abalone Mushroom in Brown Sauce
  • Fried Vegetables
  • Xiamen Noodles
  • Middle-Autumn Moon Softrolls
  • Fruits

The Beijing duck was actually ‘Xiamen duck’. It’s almost identical to Beijing duck but you only eat the skin. The meat was all served in the first dish. The abalone dishes were wonderful. Ended the evening with a drink with Volker Deckert, Niamh and Chunxiao in our Hotel Bar, followed by the hated packing for Beijing. I’m sure that my bag has shrunk and I ended up keeping the conference bag for extra storage!

Cultural Night, Xiamen

No Mao-Tai head this morning, in fact it seemed to give me a good sleep! Went to more lectures today and saw an excellent history of Atomic Absorption Spectrometry by Ian Shuttler, and some other very good talks. We continued to ration the supply of journals on the exhibition stand to try to make them last till the afternoon poster session, but much of the time the table was bare. Another aircraft-style lunch, but this one was more enjoyable than yesterday. Passed on the canned coffee.

Chunxiao Portrait

In the evening we took members from Lab on a Chip, The Analyst and PCCP editorial boards and some guests to the VIP restaurant at the Powerlong Hotel where we are staying. It was an excellent meal: we had some cold, sliced whelks without a hint of vinegar (so I was delighted!) and some lovely prawns, and a very nice beef with strips of well-cooked mushroom stalks about 8cm long, very savory! I think the meal was better quality than last nights, but Chunxiao thought otherwise! The style of food in Xiamen is different from Beijing. I wasn’t anticipating that, but it is noticeable.

After dinner we raced back to the Xiamen People’s Hall for a cultural night. We missed the first performance (Pink Egret by the Xiamen Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe) but managed to see all the rest:


Merry Lantern FestivalMerry Lantern Festival, Quanzhou Stringed Puppet Troupe

Han Ya Xi ShuiHan Ya Xi Shui (Joyful Swimming Ducks), Zither trio from Xiamen University

Middle-Autumn MoonMiddle-Autumn Moon, Xiamen Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe

Unspoken LoveUnspoken Love, Quanzhou Nanyin Music Troupe (ancient south China music)

Si Hai Huan Ge 1Si ai Huan Ge (Happy World), Licheng Sitrict Quanzhou Operatic Troupe

Za ShuaZa Shua (Vaudeville), Jinjiang Puppet Troupe

Paper-cutting GirlsPaper-Cutting Girls, Xiamen Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe

The Paper-Cutting Girls unveiled a special plaque for the CSIXXXV meeting, which was very well received!

CSI XXXV Paper-cutting Girls

The Si Han Huan Ge was very unusual, it was a huge troupe of energetic dancers, acting the discovery of the silk road by Marco Polo. He gets a look in towards the end, sword drawn. There were bare-chested men beating their breasts, acrobats, hareem dancers… The highlight of the cultural events was the Middle-Autumn moon dance, in silhouette in front of a large back-lit moon. The solo dancer was superb, with movements from fish, bats and other wildlife and she was very supple! Video linked below.

Today is the Middle Autumn Moon Festival, and this is well celebrated in Xiamen. There’s pounding party music outside my bedroom at the moment from a party. The parties are to celebrate the largest full moon of the year and moon cakes are eaten. Chunxiao ordered some moon cakes for us to end out meal earlier in the evening: they were lovely.

Meal at Marco Polo Hotel

Up at 4 am and spent some early hours e-mailing before breakfast. Chunxiao and I left the hotel at 8 to set up the exhibition stand, which is in a great spot next to the posters and tea station. We had to arrange a second table to supplement the coffee-table-sized thing supplied as it would have taken only four piles of journals. The poster room wasn’t air conditioned and in the >30°C temperatures and high humidity it was very sticky work unpacking the boxes and sorting out the piles of journals. By the time we were finished I felt like I’d spent an hour having a work out in a sauna.

The stand looked very good and some early passers by were being very polite and having a look at the journals and putting them back again. Once I said it was okay for them to take some copies there was a big rush and the table was stripped bare within an hour: this was a few hours before the poster session that we were setting up for!

Chunxiao at the StandNiamh at the stand

Had lunch with Les Ebdon in the basement of the conference centre. The food was airline-meal style: it came in a cardboard box and in a couple of aluminium food trays. It was served by a bank of people wearing face masks, which was somewhat disconcerting.

Niamh and Gary

Went to a few lectures in the afternoon before meeting up with members of the JAAS editorial board and guests for an evening meal. Sixteen of us walked over to the Marco Polo Hotel for a traditional style meal. The restaurant was lovely and the food was a good selection. We were enough people to fill two large tables. There was good French wine and we had a couple of bottles of Mao Tai. The drinking carried on until about 11pm, and thankfully we got a taxi back to our hotel because it would have been a long and unsteady walk.

Mao Tai headache in the morning?

Marco Polo 3 Marco Polo 4 Marco Polo 5

Arrived in Xiamen

Nimah and I had a hassle-free journey from Heathrow to Xiamen, via Beijing. It wook about 24 hours home to hotel, which isn’t bad (and better than some of the other delegates at our conference!). I was a bit too smart for my own good in ordering an Asian Vegetarian meal for the BA flight. I had in mind noodles and lovely green tea. The steward looked quite surprised when he delivered my meal, which also surprised me when it turned out to be a lovely curry! Same thing happened a breakfast (felt like I was going to India again!). Quick transfer though Beijing Airport and me our colleague, Chunxiao, at the gate for the Air China flight to Xiamen. After failing to sleep on the first flight, I struggled to stay awake on the second, almost missing my meal (the flight was two and a half hours).

Xiamen in humid and hot: over 30oC. The heat and humidity hit us when we left the plane. Were staying at the Powerlong Hotel (pronouned “Pau-long” and means red dragon).

The hotel is fine with a decent view of the lake.

View from Powerlong Hotel, Xiamen

We had an hour and a half to have a rest before walking around the lake to the Xiamen People’s Congress Hall.

Xiamen Lake at NightXiamen People's Congress Hall

The reception was quite a bif affair and the opening ceremony for Colloquium Spectroscopicum Internationale XXXV, the first in the series to be held in China. There were speeches and a large banquet of food, including two local specialities: Xiamen fish ball soup and fresh spring rolls, both of which were great. We headed of around 10pm, amongst the last of the delegates! By now it was raining fairly hard and luckily there was a conference bus to take us back to the hotel.

Booze on the Oose

Stives2007 Col 240We enjoyed last year’s trip to the St Ives Beer Festival and so went back today for another Booze on the Ouse. The bus ride over hot and sticky as the weather was so good and this might explain why the St Ivo centre was so quiet when we arrived at 12.30. We had an adequate lasagne for lunch and some lovely beer:

Michael tried

Graham tried

  • Pictish, Brewers Gold (a lovely pale beer with sesame-ish flavour)
  • Tring, Huck-me-Buck (recommended by the bar woman as the other three beers I wanted were not on—one had exploded!)
  • Ølfabrikken Columbus Pale Ale (from Denmark, with an citrus pine note, very interesting)

The best beer for me with the Pictish Brewers’ Gold (happily I had a pint!). Michael’s Mersea Island beer was very heavy and rich, a bit too much so after our jiggling bus ride to St Ives.

Booze on the Ouse Michael, boozing on the Ouse Graham, boozing on the Ouse

We felt a bit beered up after less drinking than normal and were back in Cambridge about 5.30.

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Watched Atonement at the Arts Picture House: fantastic! one of the best films I’ve seen for ages. Saoirse Ronan was fantastic as Briony and James McAvoy was the best I’ve seen him as Robbie. Keira Knightley also made a very stylish Cecilia. The film stuck close to the book, by Ian McEwan.

I particularly liked the music, with the typewriter setting a rhythm over the top. This was very effective in adding pace. I also liked the way that different timelines were treated. A must see film.

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