Fieldwork has to start somewhere

Day the First-and-then-some – August 17/18th 2013

*pictures will be added asap!*

Since I have actually received the feedback sentence “use fewer words” on my drafts, this diary will be bullet points and casual wording only. I am presently sitting in a massive flat in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, PRC, still slightly woozy, but fairly happy because I have reached the bottom of my bowl of spicy noodle soup with beef and pickled pak choi. Now, this is still some sort of paragraph, so, with no further ado…

First stop: Manchester International.

  • Moriarty the cat gave me my final send-off. He did some ceremonial meowing as I did my final luggage checks.
  • The luggage: after being sent around masses of admin hubs the week before departure, with the final word that China Southern allows one piece of cabin luggage weighing 5 kgs max, I saw an awful lot of people with bulky hand luggage that could not possibly have weighed less than 5 kgs. (Mine was 5.8 kgs, but of course nobody checked.)
  • As I had to be there 3 hrs in advance for my long-haul (which resulted in me sitting in the lounge for 2.75 hours because I got in that quickly), I booked a taxi to ensure I got there on time, and could sleep as much as possible the last night. I forgot to mention that I needed a cash machine until we got to the terminal. So I was driven to one in a different terminal and back again. I suspect the driver slapped an extra pound onto my bill, and in my apologetic-ness, I decided not to ask about it.
  • I got to see the sunrise on the way. Very pretty.
  • The staff at the airport were baffled at the fact that my Chinese student visa had my “duration of stay” down as “000 days”: if anyone is interested/going to China for a study stay, an X-visa will permit you one entry and 30 days to change the visa to a residential permit for one year (you do this at a public security bureau – that’s a police station for the uninitiated). The “000 days” is perfectly in order.

Second stop: Amsterdam Schiphol.

  • Even though I like to think I’m a seasoned traveller, I took neither euros nor pound bills to Amsterdam, this lead to a rather hungry state of being, as I am not prepared to pay £2-3 commission when I just want a tenner for that I can buy an over-priced sandwich.
  • Instead, I drank a lot of water. Good for my health, but quite dangerous when you don’t know how long you’ll be sitting in your seat on the flight before take-off when you know it’ll be a lot of bother if you ask the staff if you may use the loo. Fortunately, take-off was speedy this time around.
  • Seasoned traveller part two: mind you, I think the security guy looked a bit relieved when I arrived holding all my gadgets and little plastic bag ready for the conveyor belt. Not because I’m so fantastic, but probably because he had to take filled water bottles of five people before me, and needed a little break.
  • Already here the passenger count was noticeably leaning towards Far Easteners. Who really Do. Not. Do. Queues. ARGH!
  • Queuing part two: have I really become that British?
  • China Southern double booked my seat, and as a result I got upgraded to business class. Comfy chairs!
  • Business class part two: if this had been a holiday trip, I would have happily slept half to two-thirds of the flight duration, but I think I was psyching myself out about how I had to be on best behaviour as soon as I arrived, so was a bit restless.
  • The gent sat next to me chewed with his mouth open through all meals rather loudly. It did sound like he was really enjoying the food, so I tried chewing with my mouth open as well.
  • Couldn’t do it.
  • Amsterdam – we have to stop meeting like this. (I first passed through Schiphol on my birthday in 2000. I have still not been to the city itself.)

Third stop: Beijing International.

  • I saw my second sunrise in fewer than two days. *pat on the back*
  • The good thing about arriving at 5am is that there are no queues at immigration. This is otherwise a lengthy queue for those of us who have relinquished our Chinese citizenship.
  • I didn’t have the longest transfer time between these flights. Not that the leisurely-paced luggage carousel cares about my feelings.
  • The luggage part two: due to customs law in the PRC, anybody headed for domestic transfers need to claim their checked baggage at Beijing International and check in again. At the desk, they asked whether I had any alcohol in my suitcase, I said yes, and they actually slapped a “fragile” sticker on my case. I can only hope that the baggage handlers (throwers) actually heed those signs.
  • In the domestic departure lounge I felt that I was still hearing as many foreign languages as I was at Schiphol. This aspect of Chinese culture will always be fascinating to me. Perhaps this can be useful in science interpretation in regional museums?
  • In the same lounge, there is a small group of sofas with an inviting “free wifi”-sign above them. Turns out you need a Chinese mobile number to get this to work. (If this is incorrect, do let me know.)
  • It. Was. So. Hot. Even with good ventilation.
  • And believe me, I have seen Beijing airport in the days before A/C was installed. Oooh it was grim.
  • Again, with the Chinese people and the non-queueing? Some more of that. I’m trying to adapt to it though, with added elbowing.

Fourth stop: Hangzhou Xiaoshan International.

  • This airport has a little, erm, stage? With flowers and fancy décor just before the exit. Quite a lot of people were posing for pictures. It was cute.
  • Cold drinking-water taps! Beijing mostly had ones for hot water.
  • The flight had been delayed taking off from Beijing, but we arrived more or less on time.
  • My contact at ZAST was impressed that we arrived on time. He was waiting with a sign. I have never been “expected” with a sign before. My inner 5-year old found this totally amazing.
  • SO HOT in Hangzhou. Hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-brick kind of hot.
  • Well, at least it felt that hot coming from Manchester. The locals however looked quite comfortable as it had cooled down from 40 C from the previous weeks. It was “only” 37 C, so everybody was wearing long trousers.
  • I felt warm just looking at them.

Fifth stop: My accommodation!

  • First things first: the flat is incredibly nice. There are three bedrooms, two baths (with a washing machine), and a kitchen for three ZAST visitors, and since I’m the first to arrive – I get the place to myself until September, but to be honest, I’d be happy with some new friends here as Hangzhou is good for touristing, but China as a whole is better if you are in a group – the contact suggested I take the master bedroom. No complaints here.

Sixth stop: a Chinese Mall

  • I get treated to lunch.
  • Non-queueing yadda yadda.
  • Chinese fast food chains need to branch out and come to the West. Yum yum.
  • Everything is so shiny and brightly coloured.
  • Everything is MASSIVE. There will be photo-cavalcades once I jiggle the photo-upload yoke to work.
  • Once again, proper Chinese cooking omnomnom. (Can you tell that eating will be my second priority after work?)
  • Jet lag kicks in properly. I was fine all the way out, but as I begin to settle, I start feeling faint.

Seventh stop: Zhejiang Province Science and Technology Museum.

  • Best behaviour part two: What behaviour?! I was woozy for the whole time and can only hope I didn’t say anything too stupid.
  • But the place is amazing. I got a little tour from my contact, met some people, including the director, and the people whose office I will be intruding in, and some basic instructions both about the building (but not the UK-standard fire safety warnings), and what I can do with time here.
  • The latter can be roughly expressed as “draw up a plan and ask us for things, then we tell you if we can provide it”.
  • In fact, I sort of pathetically asked if I could sit down and rest a little when we were told that the director was on his lunch-rest-hour(x2) because I was so tired. I think I managed to roughly get across my ideas and requested a longer meeting to discuss plans, to which the director agreed – that’s not the worst result, is it?

Eight stop: Transport bureau.

  • This is the first time ever that I am in China of my own office. Previously I have never had to think about how I was to get from A to B, because I could just follow whoever is leading the group (usually a parent who knows the city like the back of their own hand).
  • I get a rechargeable travelcard for 300 RMB, 200 of which is deposit money. I can ride the buses, which seem to have a detailed network, and I can also rent a bicycle from stations not unlike the Boris-bikes in London, only there seems to be far more stations here.
  • The bikes are free to rent for the first hour, so apparently the deal is to time yourself once you take a bike out, then return it to a station before your hour is up, and take a new one out. Sneaky.
  • Best thing – IMHO – about the bikes is that apparently there are regular stations around West Lake. I figured that if there was one non-work thing I would do when in Hangzhou, it was to visit West Lake, and biking seems a great idea.
  • Bus fares are usually 1 Yuan for a single trip, and 9 Jiao (that’s 0.9 Yuan) with a card.

Ninth stop: Home again.

  • I arrive back at between 3-4 pm, skype with the parents, and fall asleep.
  • And wake up around midnight to find a massive cockroach on the bathroom-door frame.
  • I whack it with my lab book – the cover is wipe clean.
  • I nosy about the kitchen where there are some simple food stuffs already and decide on a bowl of noodle soup with beef and pickled cabbage.
  • It’s a bit spicier than I expect.
  • Fortunately I am still tired after a bit of email-checking, and mercifully manage to go back to sleep again and stay that way until 6 am.
  • The waking-up-at-4 am-part of a jet lag is my pet hate, especially since my rule for day two of de-jet lagging is to stay awake for the whole day even when the locals are siesta-ing.

Day two indeed… when the to-do lists begin!

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