This trip to China is different. My first trip in May 2011 was as a spouse on an inspection of projects supported by the J. Paul Getty Trust with the Getty Conservation Council. The Council consists of leaders in the Los Angeles art collection community plus those senior officers of many of the important Los Angeles institutions. During the 2011 trip, we were inside the “Getty Bubble.” This was not a bad thing. It meant that every detail was planned by staff and professional guides to the nth degree. Nothing was left to chance. If there was a little bump in the road, several people turned to and fixed it. The downside was that we did not meet any Chinese folks.
We saw all of the major attractions (Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace Terracotta Warriors) while we moved with alacrity from hotel to bus to important venue. Speed was essential because we had lots to see. It was special in many ways including the access granted to our group. One that I will never forget was being allowed to walk through the maze of reconstructed Terracotta Warriors in Xian and peer into their intricately carved faces. All of the other tourists were behind the rope line.
On May 11, 2013, I landed at Beijing airport and was met by an undergraduate student of Yuefeng Xie’s—she asked me to call her Rachel. She said that she had only been studying English for four years but she was fluent and she knew a lot of slang—I guess exported American television is good for something. We chatted on the taxi ride into the city about her research and her career so far. She came from a small town but attended Shanghai University for the first three years before she transferred to Tsinghua University in Beijing. She was studying the ability of nanofiltration membranes to remove infinitesimal concentrations of PPCPs using LC/MS/MS. I am not going to explain all of that but, trust me, it is cutting edge research in the field of environmental engineering that would be the envy of any PhD candidate in the U.S. Like a lot of the students that Yuefeng Xie has, she was first in her class at Shanghai.
The Wenjin Hotel is terrific and is located on the southern edge of Tsinghua University. After a short rest, I met Yuefeng and his colleague, Professor Xiao-mao Wang and 9 of their students for some of the best roasted duck I have ever eaten. The restaurant was called Quanjude Roast Duck and is only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Rachel picked me up to make sure that I would not get lost walking to the restaurant. It was amusing and wonderful to see that this bright and talented young woman had absolutely no sense of direction. After we stepped out of the hotel entranced she was flummoxed. She consulted the map on her smartphone and looked around at the streets, but she still did not know north from south. Finally, she asked an old woman standing on a corner who directed us to the restaurant that was 50 feet away. It made me smile.
I was introduced to the bright, young faces around our huge round table, but as many of you know, I could not retain their names. No worries. I will be interacting with them individually throughout my trip. There were eight female and one male students—a mix of PhD, masters and undergraduate students. Everyone was very nice and I was offered the best parts of the various dishes brought to the table. Besides the excellent roast duck, there were 10 other fabulous dishes. Ok, I did not try the webs from ducks feet with a mustard sauce. However, I was offered and I ate the cheeks of a baked freshwater fish. Have you ever had fish cheeks? Delicious.
As I looked around the table at the restaurant, I felt strongly that I was looking at the future leaders of environmental engineering in China. Heady stuff. The young women seemed self assured and confident in their manner. I was somewhat surprised, but Yuefeng explained that these are the cream of the academic crop and they know it. It was really refreshing to interact with confident young people.
Back to the hotel and some needed sleep, but tomorrow I will be taken around to some of the less well-known but beautiful sites in the city. My goal is to see temples and Hutongs.