23 February 2006

Hong Kong Part Deux

My first lecture was scheduled for Monday morning, so I spent some time on the finishing touches for the slides on Sunday night after the banquet. Jetlag did its part in helping me prepare by awakening me at 4:00 AM on Monday. I had enough time to do a full practice run of the slated 90 minute talk (of which I only had enough material to fill 70 minutes). I jacked myself up on coffee and decided that I didn't care when I crashed that day, as long as it was after my talk at 11.

Lon (my advisor) was scheduled to give the opening lecture at 9AM. We all met to catch a hired minibus to the "Hong Kong Jockey Club Faculty of Medicine". Betting the ponies is such a big deal in HK that the Jockey Club (the company that organises the betting) has lots of charity rigs in the city, including the entire medical faculty at the University. I grabbed another coffee when we arrived, but all they serve there is instant coffee with a huge splash of condensed milk. It is seriously the grimmest thing I've been served under the name "coffee" in my life. And since I live in the land of tea-drinkers that's saying a great deal.

As the Pro-Vice-Chancellor introduced Lon he noted that the lectures were intended to be 70 minutes with 20 minutes for Q&A, which suited me just fine, since I now magically had the exact correct length for my talk. Lon covered quite a bit in the background section of his talk that I had in the background section of my talk. This wasn't unexpected since our topics were closely related, but I felt simultaneously pleased with myself and freaked out. Pleased because I had chosen (independently) almost exactly the same approach to the introductory material that he had, and he's very good at presenting this sort of thing. Freaked because I now had to repeat a good chunk of what he said.

During the intermission he assured me that some amount of repetition would be great, especially because most of the audience spoke English as a second language. I unwisely had another cup of "coffee" and we headed back to the fairly small lecture hall where Lon had given his talk and I had loaded the slides for mine. Then we were informed that due to the popularity of the lectures (which were open to the public) we were moving upstairs to the ginormo lecture hall. While this allowed for some good natured jibing about how nobody wanted to see Lon, but they needed a special exhibition room for me, it also added to my caffeine-addled nerves.

The talk itself went pretty smoothly and I got a reasonable amount of informed questions (always a good sign). We went to lunch afterwards and I promptly crashed from my adrenaline/coffee high. Like I said, though, it didn't matter at this point.

We had a group excursion to Lamma Island in the afternoon and I considered skipping it to take a nap, but decided to push through. The Lamma Island walk was fairly nice, but unspectacular. Among the trees and small villages on the island is a humungous coal power plant visible from nearly every point on the island. The ferry ride over gave us a good view of some of the vast quantity of tankers constantly moving in and out of the harbour. At one point we went by a beat up collection of motor parts and other sundries that looked like jrandall's Chinese stash. The walk concluded with another banquet style dinner (this one all seafood) which was really amazing. I think it probably took the cake for best all around food of the week (which is high praise given the overall quality of edibles). Featured dishes included scallops, lobster tails, unbelievably tender steamed grouper (Ben ate the head again), oysters, abalone and much more.

At 7PM we boarded the ferry back to HK and I was ready for bed. We cast off from the pier and after about 15 minutes we all noticed that we'd been drifting pretty much aimlessly near shore. I went down stairs in the boat to use the toilet and noticed they'd removed a panel in the floor giving access to the engine room below. I glanced in and saw some dudes yelling at each other (or the machinery — tough to tell which) and banging on things with heavy wrenches (or "spanners" as we call them here in England). Uh-oh. The excitement increased as we were boarded by some other guys from a crappy boat alongside of ours. They brought bigger wrenches, which evidently did the job.

We chugged off toward HK, but we never got up to the breakneck speed at which the ferries tend to race around the harbour. After about an hour (the trip over had only been 35 minutes) the skipper told us we were being transferred to another boat. A second ferry pulled alongside us (this time in the high chop of the open harbour) and the dudes tried to hold the two boats steadily together (but they basically still kept yawning apart and bashing together regardless). We all clambered gingerly from one to the other until the new boat roared its engines and brought us back to the mainland. By this point I was ready for a quick return to the hotel and a good night's sleep.

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