In September 2016 I went to China to meet with librarians from the Chinese Academy of Science and from various universities in China. I presented an overview of arXiv.org and met with the Chinese arXiv user group to discuss their needs and plans. I enjoyed learning about initiatives the Chinese are working on as well as learning about the repository work presented by the other invited foreign speakers. The hosts from Chinese Academy of Science and students who helped organize the conference made the experience very fun and engaging as well as educational.
I did quite a lot of walking around in Chongqing, which was the city the conference was in and where I spent three full days. Our hosts also took us on a field trip to Dazu Rock Carvings.
After the conference I flew to Beijing and spent four full days there. Day 1: The Forbidden City. Day 2: The Temple of Heaven. Day 3: a bus and taxi ride to the Great Wall. Day 4: The Summer Palace.
My basement hotel room in Beijing was tiny and not totally clean but was in a great location; just a couple blocks from Tiananmen Square in one direction and two blocks from a huge shopping area that included multiple malls and a pedestrian boulevard where American coffee and beer were plentiful. Chinese soup and dumplings for breakfast at a local restaurant was great, but so was walking to Starbucks afterwards.
The hotel location also gave me confidence in walking a couple miles in any direction, being able to follow the major routes on my tourist map. I did get trapped a couple times by walking into what turned out to be gated residential communities and had to retrace my steps several times. But I got to see more than if I were following a detailed google map. At one point near the Temple of Heaven I knew I was close and tried cutting through a neighborhood to get to the park. As I walked I could glimpse into ramshackle tiny single story houses with happy naked kids playing in the dirt and chickens wandering around. The houses all had gardens growing, including melon vines climbing up over their low roofs. As it turns out I ended up at a another wall (this one separating the neighborhood from the park).
It took me a while to learn that everyone who seemed to randomly be walking by me and who wanted to speak English would eventually ask for money. At someones instructions I got off the bus at the wrong stop on the way to the Great Wall. It turns out the person who told me to get off had a car parked near by and could drive me to the wall for $18. On another occasion I happened to meet a calligraphy teacher from the art school who was on the way to his gallery and he would like to show me his work. I ended up buying something of course. Later that day as I was walking two other people approached me who were also calligraphy teachers and had galleries nearby. Now I’m not sure if my horse running on silk is authentic or massed produce. On my first night in Beijing a couple young women asked if they could walk with me as they were English tutor’s and wanted to practice. I told them just for a few minutes as my phone hadn’t been working and I wanted to get back to my hotel and call Aubrie. After a couple minutes they suggested we get tea and I could use their phone to call home. I said no thanks, and they kept getting more insistent. Eventually as we walked together we passed the tea place they wanted to stop at and the hostess came out and said she had a private room ready for us.
One of the things I noticed in China is how the major parks all have huge open spaces, which is kind of nice when you are packed in close to people to be able to get out where you have lots of open space. It was also nice to see people exercising in public. Not just runners, but groups of women doing tai chi warm ups, large groups doing aerobic dancing in city plazas, and hundreds of students ranked up in the mornings for calisthenics in the stadium. The air was bad, which I had expected, but it didn’t seem to affect me for my short visit, other than to give all the photos a dull grey filter. I do have concerns about kids growing up in the smog. I could see attempts to reduce it. There were hundreds of bikes and electric scooters constantly moving along the roads and sidewalks. The main thoroughfares had separate lanes for scooters and bikes, and there were outlets all over the sidewalks for charging scooters.
For the most part I didn’t need to speak to anyone during my visit other than pointing out food on menus or what tickets I wanted for the parks.
I had wanted to hear the Presidential Debates and in searching around found a posting for Democrats Abroad who were hosting a viewing in a cafe in near Beijing University. It took a few train connections to get there but I found it OK and enjoyed watching the debate with the 30+ people who were there. Plus I got the best cup of coffee in China there and a great sandwich that came in handy after I wandered 2 miles from the cafe in the direction of the Summer Palace. That was a fun walk as my map had no details for that part of the city, I just knew to keep heading West, through neighborhoods, Beijing University, and through the touristy section.
Clouds flow over the Great Wall
Temple of Heaven: