Wednesday, 19 September 2012

As it happened - HB2012 conference in Beijing - Day 2

Warning: if you’re squeamish about eating strange foods, you probably don’t want to read to the end of today’s post…

Where are floors 4, 13 and 14?
One thing I learned today is that the number 4 is unlucky in China. It seems so is the number (Edit: Matt pointed out 3 is there, duh!), 13 and 14 in our hotel as there are a bunch of floors that don't exist in the lift! 

Today the more detailed talks began. This workshop is divided into five different ‘working groups’ which each cover a specific sub-topic. For example the group that my work falls into is ‘beam dynamics in circular accelerators’, as opposed to the group focusing in linear accelerators. They really are quite different!

Laurette Ponce from CERN
There were actually only four short (20-minute) talks in my working group today, but of course I have interests in other areas too – so attended all kinds of talks, some of which I understood and some of which were a little hard to understand as I wasn’t a specialist in them.

Some interesting accelerator facts I learned today:
  • It's very hard to either predict or measure where beam is being lost in an accelerator, but it's super-important to avoid loss as much as possible!
  • The Large Hadron Collider has 4000 beam loss monitors. These are ionisation chambers that detect when some of the beam has been lost to the walls of the accelerator. If ONE of the detects beam, the whole beam is dumped and they have to start again! 
  • In the LHC if the position of the orbit of the beam shifts by the width of a human hair, (50 microns) it can cause beam loss which will trigger this dump system! 
  • Even though the Tevatron has shut down at FermiLab, the demand for protons for their other programs has only increased. They have a 'proton improvement plan' to cope with it.
Me (far left) and colleagues with the portrait of Chairman Mao
The later section of the afternoon was dedicated to working group discussions. This is what separates this 'workshop' from a 'conference' - there is much more interaction and discussion (which, after all, is why we come to these meetings!). 

However, today wasn't my working group so a bunch of colleagues and I decided we'd head into central Beijing to Tiananmen square (yes, there is a second 'n' in the name, who knew?) and do some exploring. Sorry I wasn't looking at the camera when the photo was taken... silly me.

I borrowed a guide book from one of my colleagues earlier in the day and discovered that there was a street called 'Xiaochi Jie Food Street' which sounded intriguing... thankfully the others were keen so after a bit of searching we found it...

From back to front, L to R:
lizards, cocoons, unknown?,
snake, tarantula, large scorpion,
seahorse, small scorpion. 
It was AMAZING! There were all sorts of smells, sights and weird and wonderful foods. There were also hardly any foreigners there and the stall vendors weren't touty or pushy - so it was a great experience.

We tried to ask what everything was and figured out most of it. I'd promised my colleagues we'd find "sparrow on a stick" and to my surprise, we did!

We walked all through the market taking photos and telling each other we'd better just try something safe like steamed buns. But curiosity got the better of me!

My colleague Chip was joking about buying some scorpions so he was mighty surprised when I actually bought some to eat! I'd tried tarantula when I went to Cambodia and had been told scorpions tasted like chicken (!?). 

Sparrow on a stick!
Actually, they tasted more like chicken skin. They were deep fried (fresh) for us and then sprinkled with a little salt. They were mostly just like chips (french fries) - if you ever get the chance, try some! We also had crickets which were also nice, but the wings can get stuck in your teeth a bit. Mmmmm.... nice thought, I know.

Chip really eating some crickets!
Chip pretending he might eat some..
After that we went to the Santlitun area (which we discovered is where all the foreigners hang out, which was a bit disappointing) and had dinner and discovered a local beer called Beijing Beer which was a really nice lager.

The funniest part of the whole of Day 2 was our taxi ride home. At 200 yuan (£20) we knew the price was about double what it should have been,  and I tried to bargain the driver down. But he was so funny in the defence of his price that we just ended up in fits of laughter and went with him. I can't describe how hilarious he was and do him justice, so let's just say he had an opinion on every country that involved squealing loudly and waving his arms around and he liked to pretend he was Michael Schumacher when he drove.

What a day!


  1. Wow...Sounds like an adventure!

  2. Sounds like you're having fun. I'm back there in freezing Jan and am not sure if I am looking forward to it.

    IMO: Floor 13 is missing in deference to westerners, 14 is missing because there's a 4 in it (4 in chinese sounds a bit like the word for 'death'), but floor 3 is clearly shown in your image. 3 is actually a lucky number as it sounds like the word for 'life'.

    If "Xiaochijie Food Street" is on a sign it is a tautology as xiaochi is 'snack' and jie is street. Tiananmen has an extra n because the seperate characters are: Tian-An-Men

    Hope all your foods were cooked through, I'm too concerned about parasites that live in the critters to eat them.

  3. Matt - they were pre-cooked already and then freshly cooked again in a deep fryer in front of us. That was why I decided to risk it! Feeling fine so far... :-)

    Thanks for pointing out about floor 3 - I've updated that bit!