This part continues on my series of postings about my overseas trip taken at the end of 2014 to Hong Kong and China. Because of time constraints and other interesting posts to put up, I haven’t been able to blog about it until now.
The main purpose of my trip was to attend the IWA/Elsevier 3rd Water Research Conference. In order to make the most of my ticket, covered by the university, I decided to travel to Hong Kong a few weeks earlier so as to be able to meet with my relatives. By this stage of my trip, my time in Hong Kong, staying at the Harbourview Hotel was at an end.
Heading to the Conference
It was 10th January 2015, and although the conference doesn’t begin until 11th, we opted to book our rooms for a day before the conference beginning and a day after the conference ends to give us maximum flexibility in terms of transportation arrangements. Unfortunately, while the conference organizers did organize some airport transfers, none of them were at appropriate times for us, and my ankle conditions and the amount of luggage made travel difficult. Even if we could manage to get to the MTR and get through the border crossing, we would still have to hail a cab and try our best to communicate where we needed to go.
Thanks to my relatives, they were able to arrange a private transfer service through a mini-van/limo company to do the cross border trip and take me and my family friend right up to Kylin Villa in Shenzhen without the hassle of getting out of the vehicle and walking across immigration. One of my uncles accompanied us, as he was headed that way as well and thought he’d tag along to make sure we all got settled in.
The process was relatively straightforward, although the immigration crossing did result in a small wait. In China, they drive on the opposite side of the road compared to Hong Kong, and it seems their roads are no-where near as well marked or well maintained. Drivers in China are much less orderly, which adds slightly to the danger factor. The driver commented how he disliked driving in China, and how you needed to be extra careful.
The venue in question is Kylin Villa. From what I was told, this was a mountain resort, featuring numerous villas built in different styles. Initially a government facility, not opened to the public, it has now been opened to functions for “important” guests. Our conference was to be held in the Grand Hotel building – the main building upon entering the facility.
The first thing to do upon arrival was to check in. This was where we encountered our first hurdle – the counter staff were not very well versed in English, so luckily we had my uncle to help me translate. As we had arrived a little earlier than expected, it seems that the planned single-bed rooms were not available yet, so they decided to give us a nice double-room instead. Along with our room keys, they gave us our breakfast coupons, and showed us a convoluted way of getting around the facility which was wheelchair accessible. This involved a special “shuffle” where we needed to go from ground floor to level 2, wheel across a hallway, then back down to level 1 at the other end, as the first floor was not all at the same level. Once we had taken a little trip around the inside and got accustomed to the layout of the building, we were set.
The double bed rooms were large and elegantly decked out. Two beds were provided, one of which I used as storage. There was a glass work-table, a set of stationery and writing supplies, a hotel guide, a flat-screen LCD TV, an Ethernet connection point and a Wi-Fi access point in each room.
There were also pretty good quality bath supplies and toiletries supplied. The one thing that wasn’t so good was the ventilation and air conditioning system – there really wasn’t much control – the system just did what it wanted to do.
The first day was mostly spent getting settled in, and part of that was to try and find a wheelchair which I can push myself around in, rather than the “push” chair that we came along with. My family friend was sent on a hunt to try and find one, which required several attempts despite that being listed inside the hotel guide. We did end up getting one, although slightly worse for wear, it was very helpful to have. There was some very strange English in there … for example, under “admittance”.
That same afternoon was the time to get the conference materials, as the registration desk opened. This included a timetable of proceedings and a list of all the other delegates and where they come from. I was interested to see another UNSW member, and my progress review assessor Prof. David Waite who was invited to give a keynote speech.
There I am, all dressed up, ready to go … as a bit of a practice run. I’d never thought I’d be at my first international conference in a wheelchair.
The outside of my room had a small balcony, which overlooks a small hill, where some garden feature was. It also was adjacent to a staff walkway, where all the service staff can be seen walking back and forth as they finish and start their shifts.
One thing that was startling was the room service. On the first day, I heard ladies knocking and screaming something in Manderin. Despite me replying in English, they didn’t speak English. Turns out it was housekeeping, who come into your room twice a day, even if you set your display to “do not disturb”. Just for added security, I left my laptop running at all times with motion detection on my webcam and you can see a team of three quickly servicing my room, with an occasional peek at my gear. You can’t be too careful after visiting China.
Seeing as I had some time in my room, I decided to watch some TV, and the things they say about Chinese TV are true. While the channels listing had Hong Kong’s TVB listed, the broadcasts are clearly censored, with segments taken out and replaced with “looped” tourist-style footage of Hong Kong and surrounding areas and a music track. If you’ve watched TV on both sides of the bridge, you’ll know that it doesn’t look like this in Hong Kong. Likewise, they also cover over some local Hong Kong advertising with advertising in Mandarin.
They also had a hotel channel where they played promotional videos, advertising the features of the resort. Unfortunately, due to the time of the visit, many of those facilities were closed or unavailable, which was disappointing. Another promotional video advertised the resort as an ideal place for weddings, and was updated to feature a drone carrying a ring … for that added modern touch.
Despite the high-class nature of the venue, the English translations proved to be a source of entertainment, even at breakfast. Oat bacteria? Hmm.
Unfortunately, the conference organization wasn’t very well done, and thus even simple questions of wheelchair accessibility to the presentation venue were not clear as the venues were still under preparation and nobody could really provide firm answers to the questions.
The Conference Miracle
The 12th was the first day of the conference, and by some miracle, it was a day where I could actually walk, although semi-assisted by anti-inflammatory drugs. This was good news, as I was due to present later that same day, and as it turned out, the venue had steps to the stage with no handrail.
I attended the opening session, where they used LED sign-boards rather than projectors for the central display. Aside from being terrible for distorting the aspect ratio, and having serious ground-loop flicker issues, they also had bad pixel clusters and colour matching issues. I would have preferred if they had used regular projectors.
Throughout the day, I listened to many talks which introduced me to the wider experience and areas of concern within the water industry, taking down notes furiously. The venues were packed, as it seems that many students from Harbin Institute of Technology were invited, as the co-organizers, with many of them very consciously disobeying rules surrounding no photography or videography of slides and presentations. It seems that judging from the response of other attendees, this was semi expected behaviour.
In the afternoon session, when I was due to present, I managed to load up my slides and crucially, font files to the presentation machine just ahead of my session. Keeping an eagle eye on the machine, I requested to re-load my slides and font-files after they made a switch of machines due to a lack of battery power in the original laptop. They had to run them on battery to avoid the ground-loop flicker issue – a very low-grade solution. In the end, my presentation went smoothly, and the questions were not too intense. It was much better than others who had to apologize for formatting alignment issues due to missing font replacement, which often rendered some slide content unreadable. I also enjoyed some other presentations, and cherished the opportunity to meet with Dr. Kumiko Oguma, who was one of the only others working with UV-LEDs.
We also had lunches with the other delegates, which provided an opportunity for “old friends” to catch-up. As I am new to the area, I tended to eat alone or with others who were relatively new. In several instances, I was surrounded by Harbin Institute of Technology students and tried to start up some conversation, only to suffer excruciating difficulty in trying to communicate in English.
The choice of venue was also particularly interesting, as despite their being internet and Wi-Fi (although, served from consumer grade 2.4Ghz single-band gear), it was very slow, unreliable and firewalled through the GFW. As a result, the conference hashtag got virtually zero tweets, because nobody could get to Twitter!
After my presentation was over, I felt it was a big weight off my shoulders, as I could now enjoy other presentations without the fear of being unable to make it there. Even after the conferences were done around midday on 14th, we still had some time left over on the last day to explore the environment.
Going for a Walk Around
Kylin Villa was a fairly large facility with many gardens, a lake, and a garden path. It would be wrong not to have taken some photos around the area before we left. We started from the front door of the Grand Hotel and made a loop around the facility, as recorded by my GPS.
The Grand Hotel entrance was pretty impressive, and was deserved of a 360 degree panorama. A navigable flash-based version here. It was already being set-up for another event, which seems to be a corporate one.
The whole facility is run with electric buggies to shuttle people between venues, which are very quiet. Throughout the facility, a large team of gardeners can be seen tending the gardens, as well as many military officers who periodically march around the facility and stand guard at stations. As we made our way around, they would radio our presence to the next guard to be alert.
Throughout the facility, there are scattered “fake rocks” which have speakers broadcasting peaceful music. These could probably be leveraged to make announcements should the need arise. We came across this very nice spiral hedge on the side of a hill, where some cats were sighted.
There were also some very nice palms which really show how much care they take of their gardens. Many of the villas were under renovation at this stage, so there were construction workers and debris lying about. Eventually, we got around to the lake.
The lake had a permanent area to sit and enjoy, although it wasn’t particularly full of action. In the distance, there were two trees at the top of a hill … suspicious looking trees they were!
Yep. They’re cell-phone towers. Both of them.
There was a pair of turtles as well, living on the margin between the water and land. Unfortunately, there was also a lot of litter and rubbish, and the water didn’t look too healthy. It was quite sedimented.
From this area, you could see some of the other people enjoying the park across the lake, although the “paddle boat” station wasn’t open at this time.
In all, I think the fact that I made it here was a very good outcome, and the fact I didn’t really need the chair on presentation day was a miracle. I enjoyed some more time relaxing at this spot, until we were about to leave, and were approached by management and warned not to photograph into the road or villas next to the lake. I suspect some important guests or stars may have been in the area at the time, but this really ruined my appetite for further shooting.
After finishing my walk around, I returned to the room, and got ready to pack-up to leave. Before I left, I couldn’t resist playing around and taking a few selfies …
Despite having another hotel day booked in, we had worked out that it would be best to go with our own private transfer on the way back and forfeit the last day. This was mainly because of changes in plans for my relatives, and the difficulty of handling our own transfer from the airport (drop off point) to the hotel.
This time, there was a relatively long queue through immigration, which held us up for longer than expected. It was still a very comfortable trip, and by the afternoon of the 15th January, we returned to the YMCA Salisbury Hotel on the Kowloon side to spend our last two days before returning to Sydney. Our trip is almost over, but not without a few obligations.