A Chinese Halloween, children in constume, Wenzhou, China

My China Trip, part 7: A Chinese Halloween, WeChat and lab tête-à-tête

Continued from My China trip, Part 6: A Day at Yandang Mountain.

I woke up slightly sore, the long walk at Yandang Mountain the day before was making itself felt. But after coffee and a shower I felt pretty chirpy. The agenda was to meet the students and discuss research in the less formal setting of their labs followed by a little sightseeing. I decided against wearing a formal suit and opted for a causal polo shirt. It was also pleasantly warm.

A bus took us, the invited speakers, to the Life Science building of Wenzhou University. We were escorted to a conference room where the students were waiting for us. After tea and a few opening remarks we gave short presentations more in the style of a classroom lecture.

A classroom lecture at Wenzhou University

A classroom lecture at Wenzhou University

I had with me a slide deck of a talk on Fibroblast Growth Factor 21 (FGF21) that I had given at the 72nd American Diabetes Association conference (2012) in Philadelphia. I  planned on presenting that since it would be a relevant topic for the students and help them in their line of research. I went through it slowly explaining the rationale, the hypothesis, the methods, the data and the conclusions.  I got a lot of good questions and spent a sizable chunk of time answering them one-on-one. The students greatly appreciated this gesture. I had always liked interacting with students and this session was particularly enjoyable. It brought back fond memories of my graduate student days at the University of Delaware.

We had boxed lunches brought in and continued our discussions. In the afternoon we toured the labs and then went outside for a group photo.

With the students of Wenzhou University

With the students of Wenzhou University

After the photo shoot we wanted to take a break and do some sightseeing and shopping. After much deliberation we were taken to the Times Square Shopping Center, a modern mall in Wenzhou. We walked through the many floors of the large mall which had many of the luxury name brand shops know the world over. But I was looking for something authentically Chinese which I did not find there. After a lot of walking it was time for a rest. There was an Italian restaurant on the rooftop where I decided to take a break, with Tiramisu and a beer. The place was lovely. It had a great view and a nice cool breeze if you sat outside on the open terrace. From high up I could see the surrounding mountains, the high-rises of Wenzhou Medical University and, to the right, the large hospital buildings.

Wenzhou University and the Hospital, Wenzhou, China

Wenzhou University and the Hospital, Wenzhou, China

 A large swath was under development; I saw tall apartment buildings and the construction of a wild life bird sanctuary next to the water and a busy highway. This was inside Wenzhou, a large modern city. Apparently, a lot of thought and planning had gone into this endeavor.

Bird conservation area under construction, Wenzhou

Bird conservation area under construction, Wenzhou

After we had had enough of Times Square Mall, we went for dinner. This particular restaurant must have been popular. It was crowded, especially with little children in masks and fancy dresses. I realized it was close to Halloween and apparently, Halloween had caught on in China. I saw evidence of cultural globalization with my own eyes! ‘Seeing is believing’, I am told.

A Chinese Halloween, children in constume, Wenzhou, China

A Chinese Halloween, children in constume, Wenzhou, China

 I noticed that no one brought us menus but there were bar codes stuck to the tables and the walls. My hosts were scanning them with their cell phones. I asked them the reason and soon got to the bottom of this mystery. Almost every business has a barcode. Scanning that with your cellphone takes you to the website. In the case of a restaurant, you see the menu and place your order.

Barcode on a restaurant table, Wenzhou

Barcode on a restaurant table, Wenzhou

The food is brought to your table and you pay from your account electronically. This is done mostly through WeChat or AliBaba. WeChat is an extremely popular app and has over a billion subscribers. It is an expanded version of WhatsApp. In addition to the chat, audio and video functions, one can do financial transactions.  I have seen this numerous times in taxis and in shops. A scan, a wave of the phone and the transaction is complete. Throughout my stay I did not see any Chinese use cash or a credit card. China is rapidly becoming a cashless society. Electronic transactions are fast and convenient, no doubt. But there is the potential for surveillance and misuse. Cash transactions are slow but more difficult to trace.

Relaxing at the end of the day, Awailou Resort

Relaxing at the end of the day, Awailou Resort

After a very satisfying dinner we headed back to our hotel. But the night was still young and we decided to sit in the hotel lobby and have a round of drinks. Luckily, there was a bar in the lobby. I ordered a Tsingtao beer but was told they did not have any Chinese beer, only imported ones. That was surprising. But I soon realized that the well-heeled locals who frequent this resort come for imported drinks, hence there was no economic incentive to stock local beers. A bummer indeed! I settled for a Heineken instead. We relaxed against the plush cushions and chatted. After two beers it was time to call it a day. I said goodnight to my friends and headed for my room.

To be continued

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