Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beijing experiences II

It seemed to me that the Second Ditan International Conference on Infectious Diseases in Beijing was organized by Cosoman Limited in Hong Kong despite the fact that the official organizer was the Beijing Ditan Hospital. We didn't get any information about check-in nor could we find any information on the official website, all we knew was that the first scientific program was scheduled at 14:00. We went to the venue around 11:00 and tried to check-in, however they couldn't find our information and asked us to pay for participation. We explained to the staff our identities as oral presenting authors and we had registered and paid for the conference via internet. It took a senior staff to find our records. Figuring out what title they should put on our name tags took another senior staff to accomplish. We asked for invoices for reimbursement, apparently this was something that they weren't expecting. The official language of the conference was English thus I was bewildered that speeches before my section were given in mandarin. We found out later it was because there were no foreigners in that section and mandarin was chosen unanimously for the section. The setting of the venue was speaker unfriendly, I could hardly see my power point on the screen from the stage; moderators had to give up their table and sat with the audience to see slides; no laser pointer for the speakers nor timer for the moderators. This was one of the most chaotic conference organizations that I have ever seen.

There really is no good way to get around in Beijing city if you are in hurry to get somewhere. The subway system has a massive coverage rate in the city center, however, one might have to transfer a few lines before getting to one's destination. Taking a taxi maybe a better bet if you are not stuck in a traffic jam which seems inevitable taking place all the time in the city center. I couldn't help wondering why it seemed every mintue in the city center was a rush hour, both in subway and on roads. It is said that the number of vehicles increased exponentially during the SARS epidemic because everybody was afraid to go to any public spaces. To relieve the congestion, the policy of plate number of vehicles ending with certain digits are forbidden on certain days was implemented. Despite the convenient subway, good road system and policies implemented, it doesn't seem to make it any less congested. I have to say though, Beijing has the best taxi service as far as I know. Expect a cost of 20~40RMB for getting around the city, an receipt containing the taxi number and its relevant information such as the organization and phone number etc. is always provided.

If spitting was an Olympic sport, there is no doubt that China would win a gold medal. It takes years of practice to concentrate the watery saliva and fire it with accurate an angle and force so it can fly against strong winter wind without falling apart (I think phlegm also helps to stick it together) and utimately hit the target in a perfect parabola. I was amazed that I have never been hit by a stray bullet during my stay considering all walks of life practice this skill everywhere. It also would be interesting to conduct a survey regarding the impact of second hand smoke to the public health in Beijing. The result should be promising.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beijing experiences I

I have never been to Beijing before the Olympics so there is no reference for me to compare how much the capital city has changed. Post-Olympics era is a widely discussed topic in all walks of life, the financial analyst, the politicians and I am interested to see if the civilization has been up lifted along with the modern infrastructure.

The Beijing Capital International Airport is a huge monster. After the immigration check (T3E), passengers reclaim their luggage by a 5 minute ride on a shuttle train that takes passengers to the other side of the terminal (T3C). There are 3 terminals in the airport. Terminal 1 (T1) serves domestic flights of Hainan Airlines, and T2 and T3 serve airlines worldwide. It is advised to find out at which terminal your filght is via the airport website before departure. The airport express shuttles passengers to the Sanyuanqiao (line 10) and Dongzhimen (line 2) subway station, 25RMB; about a 20mins ride, where the passengers can transfer themselves around the city center by a mass subway network. Buses to Xidan, Beijing Railway Station, Gongzhufen, Fanzhuang, Zhongguancun and some other locations are also avaliable at a cost of 16RMB, operating time: 05:30 ~21:00, every 15 mins interval. We took a cab to the Xiqiao Novotel hotel, 85RMB+10RMB toll fee; 45 mins.

I checked into the 4 star Xiqiao Novotel Hotel around 17:30 and the reception gave me a card key that couldn't open my room. I dragged my luggage to the elevator trying to go back to change the key. An elevator door opened and a staff was in it, I was happy that I could ask him to take care of the key problem instead of going down by myself with all my luggage. I said to him "excuse me, ..." before I could finish my sentence he closed the door leaving me alone in the empty hallway, speechless. I got a new card for my room, this time it worked then I realized that the reception didn't give me back my reservation documents in which was contained my e-tickets for the flights and a hotel reservation in Macau while I was settling down. I called the reception and asked for the documents back, the guy who picked up the phone told me impatiently that he didn't know what I was talking about and seemed not intent in helping me to find the documents. I went down to the reception again and asked the staff to look for the documents, that's when they started to look for the paper. It 's perplexing to see a well equipped 4 star hotel have such lousy services. My friends were glad that none of these incidences happended to them but what they didn't know was something bigger coming when they were checking out. To secure potential expenses, the hotel asked for a 500RMB deposit on credit card. When checking out, they asked to cancel the deposit. The reception didn't return the credit card to my friends after checking out; a few hours later when my friends went back to the hotel to reclaim their luggage, the concierge failed to convey the message from the reception to my friends. It was not until they landed in Taiwan and realized the credit card was lost. She registered the loss of the card and text messaged me to go back to the hotel to find the card for her.

We had an appointment with my boss in his hotel lobby at 19:00. It took us more than one hour to go to the hotel. By the time we arrived, he was pissed. He yelled at us" it should be you guys waiting here for me not the other way around" Well, it's wrong being late but considering our arrival time and the time spent in metro, we didn't think we deserved that. After all, someone picked him up directly from the airport and helped him checking into the hotel, but we didn't have that kind of privilege.

The trip started all wrong in the first place, nobody was in the mood to go out and around after dinner. On our first night in Beijing we went to bed early.

Political Fanatics

We submitted three abstracts to the Second Ditan International Conference on Infectious Diseases in Beijing under the command of my boss. All abstracts were accepted for oral presentation and I was asked to be one of the presenting authors for the abstracts submitted. For my boss' political concerns, I was asked to use my own vacation time to participate in this conference while the others applied for a business trip. I was punished for being a hard worker who didn't spend the annual paid leave for travel.

The power point was another battlefield for Taiwan and China. My cover slide contained a presenting title, authors and organizations. By default setting, the size of the title is the biggest followed by authors then organizations which were categorized as sub-titles. My boss wasn't happy about the size of the organizations on the slide and yelled at me "if you're worried that the word Taiwan would cause you troubles, you might as well not go to the conference". I have no problem telling people where I am from and politics was not taken into account when I made the slides. I made the organizations line as big as my title was, even though it looked awkward, and added the organization logo in every slide. In my speech, I took the time to tell everyone in the room that I was from Taiwan, an act that my boss instructed me to avoid in the speech. After the section, two moderators came to shake my hand and thanked me for an excellent speech and commented that the Taiwan groups did a wonderful job.

Everybody seems crazy about cross-strait politics in Beijing, especially when taking a taxi. They are proud of how much the government has lifted the ban on politics and how many channels regarding politics are avaliable now. I heard the news in Beijing about Chen Shui Bien being held in custody and that he had embarked on a hunger strike. In the news, legislators of the KMT urged Chen Shui Bien to face the law even a legislator of the DPP, Kao Zhi Pong, condemned the act of a hunger strike as being heartless. Of course the speech of Kao Zhi Pong was edited. It's ironic that while people are celebrating the slack in media control, the propoganda is progressing via the media. Are you DPP or KMT? What do you think about DPP/KMT? Do you think Chen Shui Bien is guilty? Of all the questions, this one amused me a little: do you have a communist party? All I cared about was how I could get a set meal with two pieces of spicy chicken, french fries and a coke from the KFC. (Only chicken wings are spicy in KFC, Beijing)