I find myself on an Air Canada jet on the first leg of my trip to China. How did I get here? Why am I going? I got here because I know a guy. Yuefeng Xie is a professor at Penn State, Harrisburg and we have known each other for over 20 years. I think we first met when we were both working on research to control disinfection byproducts in the early days of that effort. Many years ago, I visited him in Harrisburg and gave a seminar to his students on taste and odor control. Out of the blue, several months ago, he contacted me and asked if I would be interested in spending some time at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Uh, yeah!!!
In addition to his appointment at Penn State, Yuefeng is also an Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University. He is responsible for recruiting U.S. drinking water professionals for lectures and student/professor interactions at the school. I agreed to go and thus started a process that has ended with me catching a 7 am flight this morning. I had heard about Tsinghua University over the years. Some call it the MIT of China. I looked up some statistics on the school and they have over 41,000 students and lots of academic departments. I will be interacting with the Institute for Drinking Water Safety.
I arrive in Beijing tomorrow, May 11, and after some helpful graduate students shepherd me from the airport to my hotel, I will be on my own until dinner. Sunday appears to be a day of touring Beijing with some students or junior faculty showing me around. In 2011, my wife and I toured China with a group from the J. Paul Getty Trust. I have seen most of the big sights in and around Beijing including the Great Wall. This trip I would like to explore a bit more off the beaten path. I brought a 17-pound Lonely Planet guidebook with me to study on the plane and pick out the road less traveled in Beijing.
I give two talks at Tsinghua University and I will have multiple opportunities to interact with students and faculty. That is what I really want to do on this trip. I have met a lot of students and some faculty from China while teaching at UCLA, but I want to meet them in their own environment and learn how they live and work.
After five days in Beijing, I begin a mad dash across China. Two cities, three universities and four presentations/seminars. In the middle of all of this, I have scheduled two days to enjoy the Li River and the Karst geology of southern China. Taking the slow boat (within China) from Guilin to Yangshuo is one of the top five things to do while touring this huge country. I have always wanted to do it. After the mad dash, I return to Beijing and Tsinghua University for a final seminar and then home.
I will post updates about my trip and let you know how book sales are going. Oh, right, I forgot to mention, this is also a book tour. Many of you know that The Chlorine Revolution: Water Disinfection and the Fight to Save Lives was recently published. I have been jetting around the U.S. for the past month giving talks and signing books. When I heard that I might be going to China, I thought that publicizing the book to 1.6 billion people might not be a bad strategy. We will see.