Chennai to Trivandrum

The train from Chennai to Trivandrum took about 16 hours overnight, covering close to 1000km. The route took us west then down the coast through Kerela to Thiruvananthapuram. We shred our cabin with a family visiting their parents, their young son was four and very good on such a long journey.

Michael ate the two boiled eggs out of the biryani and I ate the lot, including the almost cold rice. It was fine and I lived to tell the tale with no ill effects.

I slept till 8 and thought we’d missed the chance of breakfast until about 9:30 when we managed to grab some chai, vada and done crunchy meal cakes. Very welcome.

Lots to see out the window through Kerela. Lush jungle with the odd modern tower block to bamboozle us.

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Coming back a better person

Some of the open kindness and friendliness of Americans rubs off on me whenever I visit the US: I feel that I come back a friendlier person, which is something to keep hold of.

Texas was probably the friendliest place I’ve been to in the US. The people there are so welcoming. I hope I go back again sometime soon.


Austin, Texas

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Laptop Failure

image1853642127.jpgI was having a really good flight to Washington for the ACS meeting, been upgraded to World Traveller Plus, was working on some notes and reading cached email offline. After suspending my laptop so I could eat my dinner the hard drive died. Awful timing—not only do I need the laptop for demonstrations at the exhibition booth, but also for email and accessing our VPN (which is locked to the laptop). Ggrrrr! Hoping that when I get off the flight that a jolt of mains power might bring it back to life. If that fails I’ll give it a good shake (and at least I’ll feel better!). I’ve only lost an hours work, there are no local files, which is a relief. I’ll see how good an iPhone is as a laptop replacement (and I’ll be able to demo ChemMobi!).

Rather drastic, but maybe now’s the time to buy a MacBook Pro?!

北京

One of the PhD students at Peking University took us out for lunch on Wednesday to one of the campus restaurants, which was fun. We ate a big bowl of nice noodles for about 50 pence each. He also gave us a tour of the PKU lake, which was frozen and were were able to walk across the ice. Lots of people had been skating on the lake the previous week, but the snow meant that they weren’t skating while we were there. In the afternoon we went to Tsinghua University.

Lunch on PKU Campus

Walking on the frozen lake at Peking University Pardha at PKU Lake

In the evening, Pardha and I went out to the Xiushui Silk Market, or Silk Street (秀水街). It’s a massive place, and fairly hard work with hawkers trying to sell you a large array of stuff. Pardha wanted to buy some silk dresses for his wife and daughter and he was an amazing barterer. The women on two of the stalls commented on how tough he was (in a respectful way!) and I think both parties had a good time. I watched! Thanks to his skills, I got 10 silk ties (rather nice) for about £10. On the way out he bought a couple of tea sets, and I was lured into buying a purple clay tea tray to complete my Yixing clay tea set that I’ve built up over various trips to China and Malaysia (I’ll write more about that later). The tray is rather large and heavy, and the price came down from £200 to £30: Pardha reckoned he could have got it for £25, so I didn’t do too badly. Now that I’ve got it home there is quite a bit of maintenance to do: leveling the tray and sealing a few holes! I think it will get there. After the Silk Market we took a small three-wheeler scooter to Tiananmen Square. The temperature was below zero, and by the time we got there we were both freezing cold and ripped off! We had a quick look at the entrance to the Forbidden City, and were there to see the lights turned off at 9.30.

Tiananmen Square at NIght

It’s impossible to see get a taxi from that part of Tiananmen Square, and we had a fairly long walk to try and find one. Finally, I couldn’t take the cold any more and we popped into a rather grand hotel for dinner. The hotel was grand but in a dusty and cluttered faded sort of way, and the food was expensive and bad! But al least it was warm and we we heated up nicely until the hotel turned the heating off about 10.30! Luxury indeed.

On Thursday we visited the Institute of Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. We stopped for a brief lunch at a nearby restaurant, where we were the centre of the attention and the people int he kitchen all came to look at us an give us wave! Come to think of it it might have been because I was in a jacket and tie, rather than because we were foreign!

Pardha, lunch near ICCAS Graham, lunch near ICCAS

We had another visit to Peking University, then walk down the road from the hotel to a little tea shop, where we spent close to two hours tasting lovely tea with the owner and his mother. I bought some very nice Longjing (龙井茶) and a disk of Yunnan Pu-erh (普洱茶). Pardha bough loads of tea: he also bought some Jasmine and another type of Green Tea. We had a great time and got a small discount from the shopkeeper. I also came away with a Money Frog, which I love, more on that later.

Pardha in Tea Shop, Beijing

We spent a long time in the tea shop, I finished the scanning of our notes to send to India, spent a frustrating 40 minutes printing out my boarding pass in the ‘business centre’ and after all that we had to dash to a restaurant for dinner 30 mins before the place closed. I had a nice meal, but Pardha couldn’t find any vegetarian stuff he liked so had some biscuits in his room. The restaurant started turning the lights off on us about 10.30!

蟾蜍, Ch'an Chu Money Frog

Early morning, 北京

The night I arrived in Beijing I was lucky enough to sleep for about 10 hours, right through till my alarm at 8am. I’ve not been so lucky this morning, and I’ve been up since 6am. I forgot to take melatonin last night at bed-time, so I’m wondering if that made any difference? Who knows?

Beijing is freezing cold! Some snow fell yesterday and I forgot how cold the university building are: Pardha and I went out in jackets and then sat in shivering in offices – when we finally got in a taxi home we were chilled right through! We’ll be wearing warm coats and beanie hats today.

This is being quite a different trip to China. It’s been really hard finding vegetarian food for Pardha, so we’ve eaten in two Korean restaurants, a western restaurant in the hotel and an Indian restaurant (which was great)! I’m still waiting for a Chinese meal! I don’t remember there being so many Korean and Japanese restaurants in Beijing when I was here last, the Korean places have great Kim Chi, and lots of veg options.

Graham, Indian Restaurant on Chengfu Rd, Beijing

Pardha, Indian Restaurant in Chengfu Rd, Beijing

We’re staying at the Xi Jiao Hotel (北京西郊宾馆) which is close to the Universities that we’re visting. The hotel was only US$59 per night, so I was a bit hesitant about what it would be like. The rooms aren’t very glamorous, but they are very quite and warm and have free wired internet!  

Xi Jiao Hotel, 北京西郊宾馆, Beijing

Xi Jiao Hotel, Beijing

We’ve got three meetings today, and if we have time afterwards we’ll go out to Tiananmen Square in the evening and try to see some Beijing Opera at Laosche Tea House. I can then take the opportunity to buy a little bag of tea! I tried some tea yesterday in one colleagues office which was really nice, and Justin gave me a written order (the bit in brackets says something like don’t sell him the expensive stuff):

justins-tea2

Leaving Boston

image1718929903.jpgI’ve had a good trip to Boston with Pardha. We’ve done well for the work that we came here for, and eveything is falling into place nicely. We went to the Top of the Hub at the Prudential Tower where I had a wicked Hendricks Gin Martini looking out over the great view of the city at night. Also had dinner at Legal Seafoods with some Harpoon beer. Met Stephen for a “gourmet sandwich” and nice locally brewed beer in Boylston Street. It’s been really cold and windy, but clearly it’s actually milder than it has been because the river of ice has melted since we got here, and there are just a few sheets of ice left floating by.

We’re flying back to London in a few hours, then have something like seven hours in Heathrow before flying on to Beijing. Arrive in Beiijing on Monday midday, local time. I’m not going to think too hard about that and I’ll trust on my (new) melatonin tablets to sort me out a decent sleep once I’m there: but hopefully that will be after my first meeting at 4pm!

Mobile Blogging from here.

River of Ice

Pardha and I arrived in Boston last night after one of the quietest flights I’ve been on. There was hardly anyone on board. The films were rotten: watched half of a new Simon Pegg comedy that left me cold, and that was it for films. Great Dan Snow documentary about the emperor Hadrian. The Charles River is frozen, which is exciting.

Graham, Boston

Pardha, Boston
 

We’re staying at the Doubletree Guest Suites in Cambridge, close to the Universities. The room in the hotel are small suites, which is workeing out well as Pardha and I can work together in the front room, separate from the bedroom. The hotel is very quiet, all the floors below 12 are empty and there are 15 floors, so things must be a bit tough.

Had a great lunch today at the Whole Foods Market, with a massive salad bar with probably 40 different salads, in large industrial tubs. The salads were sSold be weight in paper trays. All the salads I had were excellent (including seaweed 🙂 ) except for the vegetarian ‘chicken’ tofu in a  smoky sauce, which was vile.

Just landed at Heathrow

image59632976.jpgWe’re all feeling pretty exhausted now and pleased to be home. Sarah’s got a cold and we all had an early start. I stayed up till 3:30 to see if I could shift my day a little back to UK time and to ensure I can sleep on the flight. I ended up so deeply asleep that I slept through my alarm and woke up 10 mins before I was due to meet Sarah and Vikki. I’m not sure how I finally managed to waken up.

The flight was only 50% full so lots of space and a quiet flight. There was a huge array of films and programmes to watch but we all slept quite well and I only managed to watch “My name is Dave” which was fun for a flight. Lunch was served at 10:45 and I woke up just as it was being served. Had a bit of trouble with wine for ‘breakfast’ but forced it down anyway! It was Vikki’s turn to receive the attention today, when one of the crew knelt by her feet and chatted with her for 5 mins. (Lucky thing 🙂 )

City University, Hong Kong

Left Xiamen at 8,30 this morning to fly back to Hong Kong to visit the City University. Chunxiao, Sarah and Vikki left about the same time to drive to Fuzhou by car (which I gather was a bit of a nightmare). The taxi driver took me along the waterfront in Xiamen, which was lovely. Ended up back at the Golden Mile Holiday Inn in Hong Kong, with a similar rather grim view as last week (but no room upgrade).

View from the Golden Mile Holiday Inn

Skipped lunch, which was no trauma, and worked on, heading out to the City University for a 4 pm start.

City University Hong Kong City University Hong Kong

The university was buzzing with a graduation / congregation. Met Michael Yang from the Analyst Editorial Board and other faculty. I gave the full presentation to the staff and students and had some good questions, then Michael took me out for some Kilkenny in a local Irish pub, in a smart shopping mall. He left me there to contemplate the shopping, but price matching on apple macs confirmed my thoughts that Hong Kong (even with it’s tax free position) is as expensive as the UK.

Graham with Mengsu Yang, City University

Nathan Road, Hong Kong

Took the subway back to East Tsim Sha Tsui, close to the hotel, and had a wander around Nathan Road and dinner in a fun Jyo Sushi (sic) at the Miramar Shopping Centre. Had some great seaweed which was very delicate and frilly, like a sundew necklace, and some good soft-shelled crab maki rolls. A good meal to eat on my own. Back to to the room and cleared some e-mail and had a chat with Jan back in the UK.

Vikki and Sarah arrived back about 11pm, after a pretty hard day of travelling and talking to an audience of 170. They thought they might be back at 9, and flights and immigration delayed them by a couple of hours. We’re leaving at 5.30 am tomorrow for home and I might try and get back onto UK time tonight and sleep on the flight.