Friday, 15 August 2014


Following the theme of number-titles for blog posts, I've gone with 80 for this one. It may be in reference to Phileas Fogg, or the number of photos, because this is (finally) my summary of my epic journey to Beijing and Vancouver last month. This was to attend the two biggest conferences in my field, GECCO and WCCI - so most of it was pretty hard work. Largely networking and seeing what's happening research-wise at the moment. However, I did take about a day or so out in each place to rest (15 days straight conferencing is too much and gets counter-productive), so I took the chance to see a little of both places. One of the perks of the job!

It was also fun in the sense that I got to do some time travel. I flew 1/3 of the way round the world each time, crossing the date line. This meant that between Beijing and Vancouver, I took off shortly before midnight on Friday 11 July, and landed at about 8pm on Friday 11 July. Needless to say, my mind took a while to catch up wit hreality once I got back...

Sorry this is quite such a long post. Hopefully my attempts to cover the amusing side of things will help somewhat...

Obligatory "this is my plane!" post. This one is number two of six for the trip.

Everything in China is a bit more ornate. This is - seriously - a toll booth on the motorway.

An essential piece of paper! Very few taxi drivers know English, even the loud and shouty variant.
 Now seems like an appropriate moment to note that while in China I learned to say about three words ("hello", "thankyou" and "tea" - and an approximation to a couple of others), and I can now read about 12-15 written words. It turns out that if you learn the basic building blocks it's quite simple to get the meaning of many words - I found this tutorial really interesting. There's more of it here.

There's my former PhD supervisor John in front of a duck restaurant. His view on this picture is that this is not the face of someone who is about to eat duck brain. I agree.

They've made a real pig's ear of this dish! No, really, they have. Yes, it does taste as good as it looks.

Are we in Tiananmen? 'Cos I see a square! (Okay, I promise the humour will get better now)

The entrance to the Forbidden City. So called because the emperor used to live here. Obviously the communists disagreed with that, so now everyone gets in.

I thought this moat looked quite nice. Quite easily overcome though, there's a bridge right next to me.

All the buildings in this place have ridiculously intricate painting on them.

Did I mention that this place is big? Wait until you see the aerial shot later.

I liked this - it's a marble slab that's about 17m long (over 50 feet). The builders moved it here centuries ago by waiting until winter and pouring water in front of it to make an ice path. Clever!

One of many thrones.

This is articificial. Apparently the rocks were made this shape by dropping them in an acid lake for a while.

Chinese tea ceremony in a tea-house - definitely recommended. I took some nice teas back with me too!
In the picture are some Greek chums of my office-mate Michael. Most of them didn't take the tea "do you have coffee?" Not so much.

Here's the Forbidden City from on top of the nearby hill. The place is seriously huge.
(Also - that's not fog, it's what happens when you have no clean air laws. Sad...)

So many of the signs on the road had awesome cartoons. Sadly I missed most of them - but here's a happy policeman forbidding some activity.

Here's my favourite! I can't take credit for it as someone else took the picture, but the sign is still brilliant!
The view from my hotel room. You'll see why this is important shortly.

In case it helps with your bearings, the hotel and conference place was near the Bird's Nest stadium.

One day I went for a visit to a university in Beijing to talk about possible collaboration on airport stuff. I was quite impressed by their building.

Conference dinner, with dancing lion.

Here's the view out of John's hotel window.
Whenever we've been at the same conference he always seems to get the better view!

A few of us went on a trip to the Great Wall. The conference had organised an official trip, but it was £50 and included a visit to a jade factory that I wasn't interested in. This meant that when we met a person Tiananmen Square offering a trip for £25 to just the wall we leapt at the chance. On the morning we waited for the trip though we became a little concerned that it might have been a bad idea. This picture is Michael looking most relieved that the tour bus had windows, that the guide spoke English, and that no guns were involved at all. Hurrah!

Best part of the bus though - if it had got really crowded we could lose the aisle get more sets by folding those flaps down. Great! Safe!

Chairlift to the wall.

The sign on the mountain is something about Chairman Mao. I took the picture for the sign though - I hadn't been aware of safety before; will have to look tt ghat up.

Running without someone to chase is okay? Good.

Obligatory "me on the wall" shot. It took an hour to walk to the tower that's up an to the right of my head. This wall is BIG. Great even.

One of the older bits of the wall, showing its age a little.

This video is just for the sound. That noise is an insect that seems to pop up all around this bit of China. Big beasts - no idea if they're dangerous but nobody seemed to mind them too much.

It took six people with PhDs to work out that this is referring to The Matrix II.

Toboggan ride back down! Brilliant!

Rules for the toboggan. It's point 2 that I'm interested in: "drinker and mother to be". Oh dear.

In the context of the trip, I joked that this might be the sold to us as the wall. Fortunately this was wrong.

This was included in the hotel room wardrobe. Nice to have a non-scary welcome!

Now we're on the flight to Canada. Here's some nice mountains coming in toe Vancouver. Well worth seeign if you can.

My hotel in Canada had three towers, visible is my one, and the main one in the reflection.

Vancouver docks at night. Way nicer than it sounds, there were people out cycling and jogging and it's just really peaceful.

Caring son that I am I neglected to sign my mum's brithday card before leaving. So I took this picture, Jay printed it, and included that in the card. :)

Vancouver's main tourist attraction: outside.

Conference dinner in Vancouver. Some hard networking in progress. (No, really!)

An extra large maple syrup to take home.

Okay, so not really that big.

Obligatory picture of plane to come back. This is number 5 of 6.
So, a good trip all round. Quite productive, I had talks on a couple of papers to be written, a possible funding opportunity, I've been volunteered to run a workshop on transport optimisation, and a bunch of new people to do researchy things with. The week long holiday after was still most welcome though. I'm also finding it ever-harder to be away from home, both the girls have grown so much while I was away. So, no trips this long for a while now.


Finally - a reminder that if you want to vote yes then you'll need to register to vote by 2 September! You can also register to vote by post before 3 September. If you are still looking for information, a pro-yes website I've been following has produced a book that gathers all the arguments and the supporting facts (with references from often neutral or pro-no sources). You can find it here.

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