Saturday, July 09, 2005

Conference Day 5 – Final Day & Prepping for Myanmar

Keynote speaches were given in the early morning and paper sessions the later morning and afternoon today. A fairly long day, but with some interesting papers (including my own on “Tourism in the border lands of American Indian Country”). We did not have a closing banquet because we had done that on the first day when the president of Sun Yat-sen University was in town. He wants our next conference in two years to be in Guangzhou, to help give more international recognition to Zhongshan University, which is considered one of China's top universities. I am rooting for Xinjiang (Urumqi), though that would be expensive to get to. There are also a couple of other possible places.

The conference was very much a success. Everyone seemed to have had a good time, despite the lower quality hotel (which I later learned was the only one in town who had the meeting rooms needed for our conference), the unusually hot weather on the first few days, and the detours from our originally planned field trips. Some Chinese participants complained about the inadequacy of translation of the main keynote talks from English into Chinese – which we will try and work on next time. I had wished that there was more interaction between the Chinese and American academics – language is the main problem in that the older Chinese professors seldom speak any English. I chaired a session on research by Chinese graduate students, presenting in English, which was very interesting. They are doing some great work, and some are very good English speakers.

The Chinese conference organizers have often mentioned that this is one of the best international conferences in China. The other day a participant from Hong Kong told me the same thing. She said that she has been to many conferences in China, and they are all poorly organized with very long and boring speeches by government officials. I learned today that the local official had told my colleagues at Zhongshan University that they were all prepared to host our meeting. But when they arrived in Jinghong, they found that they were totally unprepared to host international participants. The Zhongshan people worked desparately to bring some basic amenities to the conference for the international guests -- such as buying milk and cereal for their breakfasts (to accompany the traditional Chinese breakfast buffet). I think this effort really did pay off -- even though it may not have been noticed by the participants!

In the evening, the Post-Conference Field Trip participants met with the travel agency owner and guide to review our trip to Myanmar, Thailand and Laos that starts tomorrow. (We almost ended up going to Laos instead because the Myanmar government felt that American academics were trouble makers. I don’t think the American in our group are troublemakers, though some of the other nationalities in the group might be!! ;)

The meeting was very interesting. We are to expect numerous road checks (military and other government bodies) and we may encounter delays at the border crossings. We will be out of cell phone access for several days in Myanmar, and even the hotel phones have poor connections. The toilet facilities outside of the hotels were described by Mr. Lin as “interesting”. The guide told us that we should ask him if it is appropriate before taking pictures. Our group of 31 from around the world (only one of whom has been to Myanmar before) are all looking forward to the trip, though with some apprehension, as well. That, of course, should make for a great adventure.

The photo below shows a couple of the many Burmese jade shops in Jinghong. The proprietors are almost all from Myanmar and have a special visa that allows them to live work in China.


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