Taking a trip… by Andy Plater

I thought you’d appreciate a bit of an insight into a conference trip.  I was recently invited to attend a conference at the State Key Laboratory for Estuarine and Coastal Research (SKLEC) at East China Normal University.  As well as taking part in the ‘International Symposium on Climate Change and Human Activities: Coastal Causes and Consequences’.  The event was a culmination of a number of research projects being undertaken at SKLEC, many involving international colleagues, and especially the Dutch coastal engineering community.  I guess I was invited because I’ve now been working with the folks at SKLEC and ECNU for nearly 20 years!  This has involved staff and postgraduate exchanges, training workshops, and various field and laboratory research projects.  This link stems from the President of ECNU, Prof. Yu Lizhong, being a former postgraduate in the Department of Geography at Liverpool, and has now grown into an institutional partnership.

The discussions on the afternoon of the first day centred on various initiatives to attract overseas postgraduates and postdoctoral research fellows to SKLEC.  I was rather dwarfed by the research reputations of the other contributors, especially the Dutch coastal researchers: Roelvink, de Vriend, Stive and Winterwerp.  The best thing was to meet Willard Moore – someone who I’ve wanted to meet since I did my PhD.  He was such a lovely chap. The discussions extended through to the early evening, although I headed off to have dinner with Lizhong, Zhang Weiguo (my good colleague and Deputy Director of SKLEC) and Rick Battarbee (who was visiting various research institutes in China).  I then retired to start on my presentation – and to begin the battle with jet lag.  It’s always easy to get to sleep on the first night in China, but you generally wake up at 3 am.  Still, being up and about at that time gives you an opportunity to Skype home.

Breakfast was non-existent on day two – I’d managed to get back to sleep at about 6 am and ended up waking at 8:30 am for a conference start at 9:00 am.  The sacrifice was worth it; there were plenty of tea and cakes during the session of keynote talks which were mostly on coastal modelling, sedimentary processes and coastal evolution.  Changsheng Chen’s presentation on the development and application of FV-COM was superb.  Ian Townend also did a great job on the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.   Despite the serious attractions of a few Tsingtaos with Ulo Mander, Chris Craft and Richard Bellerby (new colleagues arising from off-line discussions during the meeting), I had to go and finish my talk – and again wage war with the early wake-up. 

Attendees at the conference – I’m at the back!

I successfully managed breakfast on day three – along with Chris Craft who was another early riser.  The parallel session talks at the conference were quite a challenge.  The themes of the various talks were, er, varied, as were the experiences of the numerous presenters.  Rather lax chairing of the sessions also meant that we ran on.  The same applied to the afternoon, where over-running of the first session meant that I hurried into the session to give my talk on using numerical modelling in support of coastal management decision-making.  It seemed to go pretty well – and I had a couple of quite challenging questions, notably on how providing advice for decision makers could learn from the experiences of the recently jailed Italian seismologists!

That night was the formal conference dinner at a plush restaurant in Shanghai… and the inevitable karaoke. We knew it was going to be done on a ‘national’ basis so John Dearing and I nervously tackled the various dishes – from hairy crab to whole fish soup.   And as representatives from the various nations did their thing, stage-managed impressively by Dano Roelvink who seemed to be a bit of a karaoke king, I was desperately seeking the lyrics for “On Ilkley Moor baht ’at” on my phone.  As we took to stage, I secured additional performers in the form of Richard Bellerby and Ian Townend.  To the cheers of “The Beatles!” we disappointed the international audience pressed on with our planned rendition.  It wasn’t too bad at all (phew) – especially with Richard knowing where to chip in with some smutty little additions.  The evening ended with me, Ulo, Chris, Richard and Norbert Hertkorn heading off to ‘The Pub’ outside the back gate of the university – and then returning in the early hours by having to climb over the gate!

The fourth day saw the conclusion of the conference in the morning, and then me spending some time in the magnetics laboratory at SKLEC helping Da Dong, a PhD student at ECNU, identify some Chinese diatoms.  Surprisingly, the preservation was really good.  I also had a good chat with Weiguo and Lizhong about setting up a dual PhD programme between the University of Liverpool and ECNU.  UoL graduates really should be thinking of a future in Shanghai, especially in the area of environmental research and resource management.

That evening I headed off to the airport with Simon Neill, a lecturer from the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.  He was due to fly back via Abu Dhabi but his flight was cancelled.  Fortunately, he was transferred onto my flight (via Doha), so we compared notes on the crappy superhero and sci-fi films that we watched on the way back.  Do not waste any of your valuable time watching the remake of Total Recall!

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