In December I visited China on a UK-China university trip, accompanied by people from 9 other UK universities. I had less access to the internet than usual, and no access to twitter, so instead found myself writing offline blog posts, which of course have taken me ages to put up online now that I’m home. Here are the third and fourth posts - scroll down to find the first two if you are interested.
Bus from Shanghai Airport to hotel – Day Seven
Chinese hospitality has continued to be most wonderful; people are very friendly and warm. The UK delegation is convivial, everyone easy to get on with, no one requiring special attention. Travelling with my Bath Spa Uni colleague Prof Hongji Yang has very much added to the trip – he feeds me information about China, its history, its geography, his own family story. I’m learning a huge amount.
I made the mistake of looking at the air quality levels online for Wuhan and Shanghai. Both cities are currently at the highest level on the scale, ‘Hazardous’, which is the level above ‘Very Unhealthy’. The recommendation is that no one engages in any outdoor activity whatsoever. However, this is clearly not possible, not for us, not for anyone who wants to live and work in a normal manner. I have had many conversations about this problem now, and people are mournful about it; one of the university Deans I met in Wuhan said that the problem has become much more acute in the last two years. I could see that the city and both Hubei and Wuhan universities have parts that are very beautiful, with lakes, rivers, parks, gardens, and the mountain behind Wuhan university. There were large blue long-tailed birds in the trees and this morning as we drove to the airport we crossed the enormous Yangtzee River by bridge. But everything is bathed and obscured by dense yellow air. At Shanghai Airport where we just arrived the fog had actually made its way indoors and the air in the arrival halls was hazy.
It seems strange to travel to the other side of the world to talk about digital media and then to spend my time worrying about air quality – both things, equally strange.
Flight Home to London – Day Eleven
When we arrived in Shanghai the air quality index was at a record high; 200 flights were cancelled or diverted because the air pollution was so extreme that day. Thereafter, we received extensive apologies from everyone we met in the city, but we felt bad for them, not ourselves, as we knew we’d be leaving.
On the Shanghai subway an old man helped Hongji and I find the ticket office when the machines wouldn’t accept our money; this was the first time Hongji had ever seen what he called a ‘professional beggar’ in China.
Did a bit of sightseeing in Shanghai, watched some student films, and went to the 2013 Shanghai Micro-Film Festival award ceremony where, between awards, three dancers wearing candy coloured shirts shimmied to Abba’s Mamma Mia, and a young woman dressed as a young man in a Lone Ranger-style mask waltzed with a limp but life-sized woman puppet. The winning film was a short alarming documentary about what is happening to wild bird life in China currently; our host told us that people are beginning to think more about the environmental consequences of development and this film was a sign of that.
We attended more meetings, and listened to presentations, and discussed ways we could collaborate with Chinese Universities. My favourite new tech platform of the whole trip was Blueberry Mobile Phone Social Radio. I hemmed and hawed about whether or not Simon and I would ever drink the tea if I bought it, and pondered whether my daughter and I need little silk change-purses and lipstick holders in our lives. I looked at the jade bracelets which reminded me of my mother – I can’t remember where she got her jade bracelet, though it was definitely not China. I laid low and monitored the air quality online. As the trip drew to an end, my UK companions headed off in a variety of directions, some going on to further university visits in China, including my colleague Hongji who took the speedtrain to Beijing. Before he left, Hongji and I had spent a morning sightseeing, and saw the Shanghai Pearl - an enormous silver and pink Soviet-style television-aerial skyscraper revolving-restaurant-extravaganza – and a back alley upstairs rabbit warren of fake designer bags and watches. I took many crappy photos and many crappy photos of me were taken (dozens of random Chinese people now have photos of me on the phones – I think it’s my hair that was deemed photo-opportunity worthy).
And now I’m on the airplane home, watching movies. On this trip I learned a bit about life in China today. I came down with a cold and felt a little homesick while I was monitoring the air quality. Turns out Chinese people love their smartphones as much as they love their food – maybe more (we were told there are a billion mobile internet users in China now – can this be true?).