Sunday, 19 April 2015

NERC in Nanjing 2: 46 hours travelling, 48 hours in Nanjing

I'm now happily home so here is the second part of the Chinese odyssey.

14th April: train arrived on time in London and I got to Heathrow via Paddington and the Heathrow Express. I'm travelling Air France to Paris and then on to Nanjing, changing in Beijing with Air China. There was a grumpy man at the Air France check in who told me he couldn't check my bag through to Nanjing as Air France didn't "have a relationship" with Air China. He then weighed my hand baggage and told me it was 1 kg too heavy and that I should pack less next time. I'm a bit stressed about not being checked all the way through as I only have 2 hours in Paris which to me feels like cutting it fine to check in for an international flight. At least I only have hand baggage so I won't have to waste time waiting for my hold baggage to be unloaded before trying to get my next flight. I spent a little time trying to persuade Air China to check me in but the people at the desk couldn't and you can't do internet check in for Air China flights from Paris. Hey ho. I hung around in a relatively quiet Terminal 4, had a nice lunch at Carluccio's and then flew to Paris.

I arrived into Paris on time and tried to find out whether I had to exit the air port then come back in to check-in on the Air China flight or whether I could just follow the  "International Transfer" signs. No one seemed to know so I opted for "International Transfers". This got me to a bus which took me to another terminal - it took about an hour which was quite stressful. Eventually I got to a gate, about 40 minutes before my Beijing flight, but still with no boarding card, which again was rather stressful. However the people at the gate, though rather surprised that I had no boarding card, helpfully got me one and checked me through to Nanjing. We were boarding within 10 minutes of me getting my boarding card - too close for comfort!

I arrived in Beijing on time and it was very efficient getting into the country, only took about 30 minutes of queuing at immigration.

My wife had a friend who used to take photographs of MacDonalds in different countries she visited making sure that the MacDonalds sign was only just visible, tucked away in a corner or poking out behind someones head. I think an equivalent these days would be adverts featuring David Beckham - here is one from Beijing airport.
Global phenomenon David Beckham - would you buy a car from this man?
Typical "Chinese" shop in Beijing airport

But here's the flight board to show it really was China

There were Chinese shops as well

But also Western food outlets
I was met in Nanjing by some students who took me to the hotel, the Purple Palace. There was a very impressive inflatable balloon arch in the hotel. It would be lovely to say that this was something to do with our workshop but actually it was to do with a party celebrating the first 100 days of a baby being born, apparently a big thing in China. It was a very racous party. I saw various people staggering out later in the evening.
100 day celebrations for the birth of a baby.
The hotel is comfortable and the workshop was useful - I spent time getting to know UK colleagues and also discussed our proposal with the Chinese partners who were very welcoming and hospitable. I think the visit also helped NERC and NSFC sort out how the call would work - it seemed to evolve almost by the minute at times! The food was good, I'm very fond of pork dumplings for breakfast. I was also able to confirm that I still don't like the taste of jellyfish!.

Unlike the last time I was at a meeting in Nanjing, about 3 years ago, I did see a bit of the city - we had a boat tour on the evening of the 16th. As the recorded commentary was in Chinese it was less informative than it could have been but it was nice to see bits of the city. The highlight were undoubtedly the illuminated sheep (alas I didn't have a camera with me), a classic bit of Chinese incongruity. 

After one and a half days of talks it was time to travel home again!

The travelling was very smooth on the way back. The only unnerving event was arriving in Beijing airport. I knew that my flight to Munich was at 0110 in the morning. However the departure boards showed that the 0110 flight was going to Athens!
Why isn't the 0110 going to Munich like it says on my ticket?
I wondered whether this was due to the French Air port strike - it was scheduled to be happening and I hadn't checked the news whilst in Beijing. I know now that the strike was cancelled. Anyhow thinking that Athens was a lot closer to home than Beijing I tried not to worry and kept going. It transpired that the 0110 was going to Munich but then on to Athens so all was well.

It's OK it is, it just then goes on to Athens

The transfer from Munich to Heathrow was fine and I got into Heathrow at 0830. I was on the 1000 train from Kings Cross to York and in York for 1249. Pretty efficient.

Total time travelling for the trip (there and back) was about 47 hours. Length of time at meeting 48 hours including two nights sleep which accounted for about 16 of the 48 hours. Cost for travel (excluding 2 nights accommodation but including visa fees) about £1600. How do you assess the worth of these things?

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

NERC in Nanjing 1

I’m writing this in two parts, the latter retrospectively as I don’t think I have access to my Blog whilst in China. It shows the helter skelter rush for a Chinese visit relating to a NERC-NSFC (National Natural Science Foundation, China) funding call. All very glamorous sounding I’m sure but rather stressful and by my reckoning at least 3 days travel for a day and a half of meetings. Skype anybody?

28th Jan: NERC-NSFC-Newton fund announce an opportunity for funding soil science for joint UK-Chinese collaborative projects. 4 projects to be funding, withh UK teams each getting on average up to c. £750k over three years = 2 postdocs time.

26th Feb: Contacted by Ganlin Zhang, (Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciencs) via Stephen Nortcliff (thanks Stephen) to see if I’m interested in collaborating, of course I am!

6th March: Proposal submitted to deadline - UK lead is Paul Hallett from Aberdeen. Jo Smith and Josie Geris from Aberdeen also on board.

19th March: We hear we’re through the first round and that there will be a workshop in China on 15 – 18 April (it clashes with Chinese soil sessions at EGU where Paul Hallett is involved in various sessions - didn’t anyone at NERC check for clashes?). So I'll have to go to China to represent the UK branch of our group. I'll need a visa but need official invitation letters before I can apply for one. I book my plane tickets on the assumption that I'll get a visa in time.

27th March: I go on holiday to Austria for a week - no news on the invite letter and I need my passport in Austria so I can't apply for a visa yet.

30th March: Official invite letter needed for Chinese visa application arrives – can’t do anything until I get back from holiday and the turn around time for visas is four or five days minimum. It will be tight.

7th April: Back from holiday, passport sent off to agents to get Visa. French air space strikes start – I’m flying out via Paris!

13th April: Passport arrives back from agents. Check status of strike – it looks like another strike starts 16th April, ends 18th April so I should be fine flying out, getting back may be more problematic but I’m flying back via Munich not Paris so I might be OK.

14th April: Taxi is late to pick me up for the train station (why does that always happen?). The carriage I have a reserved seat in (D) isn’t there – there’s a gap between C and E! I eventually find D at the end of the train, must be a new version of the alphabet. Train is now on its way to London. All being well I'll get to Heathrow in good time. I can then catch up on some films on the way to Nanjing, enjoy the food and the company and talk science. More when I get back.....

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Models and field work

Bookending the Easter break I spent a good day at the Natural History Museum with Paul Eggleton and Ron Corstanje working on the data from our NERC BESS project.

A draft structural equation model for controls on earthworm distributions in pastures

Then after a week skiing it was straight into the field to start earthworm sampling for Soil Bio Hedge. Here we all are lapping up the sunshine at Spens farm.

Sampling earthworms in the sun at Spens farm