Last night I was set to go to a birthday party (Friday after all), when my supervisor here rang to ask if I could come to dinner with a newly acquired PhD student, and a potential Hist of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine – although if you’re reading this blog, I almost suspect you know this) masters student (and her father – somebody high up in another university here in Beijing, although I had to figure this one out when I arrived). The latter two attendees were not mentioned on the phone. I made an admittedly feeble attempt to imply that I had plans for the evening, which were swept aside and ignored. This is point number one: if you are engaging in postgraduate research here, you are expected to follow orders.
Mind you, I ended up running a little late for the meet-up (no more than five minutes, but still… tsk tsk, bad habit – temporal optimist) but apparently this was okay. (Make this point two.)
While I was being introduced, there was a discussion as to what how we should all address each other. From my perspective, the two teachers get their honoraries (surname+”teacher”); the PhD student – who is from Taiwan and also unfamiliar to these orders of the PRC* – gets surname+”PhD”, as is proper at university (although I hope we end up on first name basis). The masters student, due to being below me in the academic hierarchy but will be supervised by the same teachers as your truly, refers to me as, per google translate, “senior sister apprentice”. What it actually means is “teacher sister”, implying that we belong to the same fraternity of students supervised by the same tutor; I refer to her by name. Call this points three and four.
So we sit down and order food. I am made to order the first dish, despite my protests of “but I don’t know northern Chinese cuisine”, but I think it turned out okay: the plate of pan-friend lake-shrimp and chilli was empty at the end of the meal. The main point here surrounds conversation topics. When the two teachers were discussing something, it seemed like us three students basically just fell silent and turned to “listen and learn”-mode. People asked me about settling in in Beijing (briefly), and my project (in depth), and while it was great to have interested parties willing to discuss my project with me, there were moments when I felt that I kept talking and talking… (yes, friends, even though I have moments when I seem to love my own voice (hello blog), I don’t really like playing porte parole. For too long. But they all seemed interested, and the masters student even said she might be interested in helping me conduct my studies, so woop! (Douze points for me! Err no. Nevermind.)
THEN, we turned onto the issue of how my supervisor is not so sure his daughter (who is nearing the end of her UG degree) should stay in her field (computer processing/engineering, etc) due to it being male-dominated. At this point, the other teacher chipped in that “girls are best off in inter-disciplinary fields (sure why not), and only men make it to the top in STEM subjects (ahem)”. Had we even been having afternoon tea, I might have gone ahead arguing my little corner of “why the hell should young women not have a go in the STEM subjects?” BUT. Besides not arguing (too much) against teachers, I did not want our civilised dinner to turn into a massive debate – especially when my Chinese has not completely revolved into its former glory (yet), meaning I’m not yet ready for full-on verbal sparring. Point six.
At dinner there was another issue.** Baijiu was involved. Now, as a student, I am expected to partake in the drinking a little, but as a student of the female variety, I should not be too invested in the drinking. So I settled on “I’ll have a little, since we’re celebrating [the successful interview of the male PhD student]“, when asked. Then I was presented with a tiny jug of the stuff, along with a tiny cup from which to drink. After that, there was a whole host of toasts for all reasons that we were all to drink to, and I because rather invested (i.e. overly second-guessing, probably) in whether or not I was drinking more than a ‘dainty little lady’ should. Anyway, dinner over, jug empty, head apparently still fully on. THEN, supervisor says, “ah, so you (that’s me) can drink”. I have no idea if this is a good or a bad revelation.*** And that’s the final point to today’s academentia.
I decided not to show my hipster self to these new acquaintances immediately, so here is an unrelated picture!
Quick research update: I have two lists of new contacts who need ringing. Unfortunately the person who seems to be the best first-port-of-call (professionally) – a content developer at China Science and Technology Museum and former student of my Chinese supervisor – has just had a baby, and the soft bits of my heart does not want to bother her too much…
*That’s People’s Republic of China, in case somebody is reading this in first-thing-in-the-morning groggyness.
** I say “issue”, internally I admit I was going, “oh good, here we go”.