I woke to the gentle but persistent chimes of my cellphone alarm. The first blush of dawn was lighting the sky. I pulled back the curtains of my hotel room and looked out. Wenzhou was spread out before me surrounded by low, green hills which dwarfed the many high-rises in the city. It looked peaceful in the soft light of early dawn.
Just outside my hotel was a network of large canals big enough for boats. I saw several motor boats and a few powered the old fashioned way, by a man standing at the stern with a large oar that he alternately pushed left, then right, thereby propelling the boat forward. It added a quaint, historic touch to an otherwise modern setting.
Today was the day of the Fibroblast Growth Factor conference and I had to give a talk. I knotted my tie, donned a jacket, grabbed my laptop and headed for the hotel lobby. There I mingled with the other scientists until a bus came to take us to the Qiuxin building at Wenzhou Medical University, the conference venue. The auditorium was already quite full with guests and students. Many students were standing at the back, it was literally ‘standing room only’. I noted the translation booths and the video cameras that would record the entire proceedings. We took our seats in front and the conference began.
There were the usual opening remarks and then presentations from local government officials. This was followed by a donation signing ceremony where representatives from local biotech and health care industries, with much ceremony, signed and handed over big cheques towards the funding of the new research institute. There is a natural symbiosis between health care industries and health care research. The discoveries in research are turned into medicines and other health care products that are then sold to the patient and consumer. It is a wise investment on the part of industry.
These activities took longer than expected resulting in the later scientific presentations being squeezed for time. To make up, we were asked to give shorter talks which required some quick editing on the fly. I decided on a simple course of action. I simply eliminated three slides from my slide-deck which did not overtly impact the thrust of my talk. This allowed me to end with a few minutes to spare. That was a relief.
My topic was “My experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry”. With over twenty years spent in the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries, there were several lessons I had learned over time. I highlighted a few important ones, for example, choose projects with care and make quick, firm decisions to continue or terminate projects based on data. Spend time efficiently, on discovering new medicines and not in useless meetings. Good science requires contemplation which, in turn, requires time and quietude. Therefore, we need to create this much desired environment. Since I was the only speaker from the pharmaceutical industry, my talk was very different from the other academic professors. It clearly touched a nerve and was very well appreciated.
Around noon we stepped outside for a group photo and then broke for lunch. After lunch I had a little time to explore the surroundings. I discovered a pretty, quiet bamboo grove at the back of the building. It seemed a perfect place to relax and contemplate. The rustling sound of the wind through the long stems brought back pleasant memories of my school days a long time ago.
The conference continued in the afternoon. We had a couple of coffee breaks where we had a chance to mingle with the students and representatives from the Chinese Pharmaceutical industry. It was a learning experience. The conference ended on a high note.
There were sport fields on campus and at the end of the work day I saw the students take to the fields to relax. Some walked or jogged. Others played team sports. I was particularly intrigued with a group activity where several players have to bounce a ball on a taut drum attached to ropes. The tension on all the ropes have to be precisely timed so that the rising drum meets the ball as it is descending to cause it to bounce higher (see the photo below). The winning team is the one that can bounce the ball the highest. This requires great coordination among the players. Community and cooperation are an integral element of Chinese culture and further reinforced through such activities.
We had dinner at the medical school dining hall. We went during dinner time and saw a steady stream of students making their way there. This is where almost every student has breakfast, lunch and dinner. They don’t have to worry about food or cooking. The university takes care of that. The students just have to concentrate on their studies, research and work. We had our dinner in a separate room at the now familiar circular table with the rotating tray in the center. It was the end of a long hard day and we all relaxed over glasses of wine and beer and chatted about the conference, the new things we had learned and the pleasant time we had had. Soon it was time to board the bus and head back to the Awailou Resort Hotel.
Today was the day for science but tomorrow will be a day for relaxing. We will transform into tourists visiting the Yandang Mountain National Park.
To be continued.