A week of introductions …

June 25th, 2008 § 0 comments

7:40AM everyone’s on the bus in time. We’re sleepy and in probably our best shorts, but excited to see what the Ministry of Science and Technology has in store. Ushered into large conference hall that is overly formal yet has a dusty grey feel to it. We’re seated as if it’s going to be a 40 person panel discussion as each of us has a personal mic — the kind you press the button to activate and then the light indicates you can no longer talk without talking to the whole room. There is a cup on each table with a lid and the waitresses come around to serve tea, which is refilled more or less every time you take a sip.

The six hosts of the morning affair arrive in suits and ties and take their places at the podium in front of the stage. There is a representative each from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese National Science Foundation, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The is a Science and Technology Secretary from the US embassy. These are long institution names, and they get repeated a lot. This is an official press conference style meeting. Feeling is we’re here for show. There are photographers and photographs. Immediately we’re invited to the stage for a group photo. The photographer seems a little disappointed in our inability to self organize according to height for the photo, this is in contrast to our Chinese counterparts who are remarkably good at self-organization.

Return to seats. Short speech from each panelist. Each solemnly reiterates and thanks every ministry name involved on the US and China side. We are told about the beginnings of great collaborations. Some phrases I recorded verbatim:

“I commend the students and professors participating in the summer program with the unwavering help of [names of ten institutions]. You are the ones that will light the torch of science and technology collaboration. Together we shall conquer the sorrow and step out of the shadow caused by the disaster [sichuan earthquake] and rebuild our homeland.”

Two alumi of our program are invited to give a speech. They remarkably follow the format set by the hosts of contentless thank yous. Then our attention turns to the man with the powerpoint, who we are told is Mr. Li. He excitedly announces “This presentation has a 100 slides.” … and probably a million words. This pattern repeats at several other future visits, (as does the content , since it’s all from the national statistics office whose job it is to make such master presentations from which all others are assembled.) He reads through the entire presentation with his eyes and finger fixed on the screen of the laptop, tracking the text, starting from “Introduction to China: Science and Technology Development”

I doze off and imagine the powerpoint theory lesson that made this all be, “Every slide needs to be interesting! You must insert a logo, at least one other image, a graph, and a table. Fill in all empty space with bullet points. Make the text small so you can fit more of it in. Something must twirl.”

It has statistics about science investment, 5 year plan meeting goals, graphs about attainment of targets (with strange metrics like, high-tech independence is at 41% up from 26% just 5 years ago!) This is done for every science related discipline/field/administration/whatever you can imagine. I think the presentation strategy is to overwhelm us with thoroughness, and we are overwhelmed. The stresses are that China wants to move up the production value chain and bring technology and innovation to the fore, and that it’s doing it here, here, here, … and here.

Once he flips the last slide, the meeting host announces, “That’s all for this ceremony!” And like that, they disappear.

We wander unremarkably back on the bus which chauffeurs us back to the hotel at 11:30AM. Good bye. Enjoy your first day in China. See you tomorrow at 7:40AM! This feels delightfully unrewarding and sobering.

What's this?

You are currently reading A week of introductions … at Tolerable Insanity.