Friday, September 20, 2013

Paris conference and fun

Now back to the Paris part of the trip. This part was very busy so I'm not sure I could've blogged even if I had a keyboard. I flew to Paris on Thursday night and got there Friday morning. After unsuccessful attempts at both getting more money out of the ATM with my SFC account (card expired) and breaking up my €100 bill, I found out I could just use my credit card to buy the train ticket into Paris. The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the subway was that the sun was very low and always glaring in my face. I guess I used to HK where the sun just goes straight up and does not hang out near the horizon. 

Friday. I did a lot of walking. I was partly following an itinerary from TripAdvisor on walking around the Latin District. I ended up walking a lot more than that and was exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel. The hotel we stayed at was very basic but we each got individual rooms with all the standard amenities. I was wondering if it would be more like a hostel but it was not bad. I met up with the other girl who was sponsored by HKIE and we went for dinner nearby. She has been working for a few years and just finished a MEng at MIT. She's very cool and we got along very well.

Saturday. The start of the Young Geotechnical Engineers Conference. We managed to get to the university where the conference was held not too late. The university has a very nice campus. One of the buildings even had a green roof. There were around 150 participants from all over. It was really cool to meet people from different backgrounds. There were 3 parallel sessions for the most part and I was really impressed that some of these people managed to publish and present in English even though it is probably their 3rd or 4th language. The Q&A got a bit tough sometimes though. The organizers managed to get the funding to put the papers in a book. It's really nice and encouraging that this is an opportunity to publish a piece of research that may not be readily accepted by other journals or conferences. Definitely aiming for the next round. Some of the presenters from industry didn't have very impressive projects though. This really made me realize the scale of things we are doing in HK. Other countries are just staring to do things like testing for soil nails when there has been 50 years of extensive experience in HK. That night we were treated to a very nice gala dinner at a very old restaurant.

Sunday. More presentations followed by a closing ceremony. I think I would like to get more involved in these professional societies in the near future. After a few mishaps, we finally managed to meet up with my coworkers at a restaurant near their hotel and the next conference venue. When I got out of the metro station at Porte Mailot, I realized this is the neighborhood that Yalu stayed at during her summer in Paris! I had always wondered what that big structure next to the hotel contained. I got even more familiar with the Metro 1 line this time around.

Monday. I got to the conference a bit after it started. Good thing I made one of my coworkers come get me. I wanted to drop off stuff and change but when we walked back to the conference I was really amazed by the size of the audience. We were told during the young engineers conference that the main conference was going to have 1500 participants. It was really amazing to see that number in actual size. No way I could have found anyone in that mess. The first two days were plenary lectures featuring big names in academia and industry. There were no Q&A due to the large size of the audience. 

We were given pretty nice stuff at the conference. We each got a shoulder bag filled with flyers from all the sponsors, a 4 day Paris metro ticket, bottle of champagne, notebook, USB with the proceedings, etc. My boss ordered the hard copy of the proceedings which he immediately regretted because it came in a box of 4 volumes. We managed to ship this (by boat) back to HK. We had to do them separately due to weight limit for this rate. Hopefully all the volumes make it. The only thing that was lacking at the conference was food. The coffee breaks always ran out of snacks and they only served finger food instead of real meals. You would also think that at such a big conference with exhibits (sponsors had booths to show off their stuff), they would have coffee and drinks lying around all the time. But nope, things were promptly stowed away after the coffee breaks. 

Tuesday. So on Tuesday we decided that we really need to get our own lunch. Luckily there were a lot of really nice restaurants nearby. I think we went a bit crazy in eating at nice places these few days. Every meal was a really nice one. Some people were really into mussels and oysters. I don't really like shellfish so I just ate more of the other stuff. We had all kinds of meat at every meal. 

My coworkers also went crazy with shopping for luxury brand items like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. I think we went shopping every night as they had orders from friends and family to buy different things. They claim that it is a lot cheaper, especially with the tax refund. It really amazes me how people are willing to spend an entire month (more than a month?) of their salary on a wallet. 

Wednesday was when the parallel sessions started. The organizers had different types of sessions, labelled discussion, workshop, and symposium. But there was no explanation in the program about the differences of these things. And I'm not sure the speakers even knew! I think it's really important to make sure your participants understand the rules of the game. How else are we to participate? Anyway, the discussion sessions were the most traditional in that they consisted of presentations and Q&A. But they were really quick, 10 minutes total. I think the workshops were meant to be more discussions among the audience. One of the workshops I went to had short slides, basically summaries from the presenters and a lot of discussion from the audience. But in other workshops, the presenters just used up all the time and there was no Q&A. It was strange. 

Due to the growing realization that we are spending too much money on food and that we needed to get rid of the 3 bottles of champagne, we decided to cut back on eating out on Wednesday night. Instead, we went to a Monoprix and bought a bunch of stuff like, bread, cold cuts, salmon, cheese, and fruit. We had a pretty nice meal back at the hotel. We even got to see the Eiffel Tower glow with its own light show from the hotel window.

Thursday, I met up with my previous boss from SF who is back in London now. We had lunch together with the other HK people and just chatted in general. It was nice to see him and I'm glad I didn't miss him entirely. I was on the lookout for him the first two days and then realize I should just send an email. Apparently he didn't even participate in the first two days and just arrived on Wednesday. There were a lot less people at the second half so it was easier to find him.

We concluded the conference with another nice meal at a very cute restaurant we happened upon after shopping. 

Friday. We were all pretty lazy in getting out of bed. Due to the complexity of reservations for this trip, we found out at some point that breakfast was not included in the later reservations. We ended up eating at the hotel anyway due to convenience. We managed to get ourselves out to Provins, a nearby little town that is a UNESCO heritage site with many Medieval buildings. My coworkers did not really understand my lazy style of traveling, which included only finding out the most important pieces of information, like how to get back to Paris. They kept trying to make this one train that I knew would be impossible to make. Sometimes, it's a lot less stress if you just give up early and accept the fact that you will take a later train! Anyway, there was plenty to see at the train station. We even got an ice cream cone and souvenirs. The town was pretty small and there were tourist maps at some places with routes marked out. We managed to walk pretty much the entire thing and ate dinner at a kebab place before heading to the train station. I think my coworkers were expecting more of a tour from me but that would be too much work. 

Saturday. I had wanted to go on another daytrip but seeing the slow speed we tend to move at, we decided against this. My coworkers still wanted to shop so we had breakfast and then went shopping again. The other girl on this trip had to leave around noon so my boss and I kept walking to the Longchamp store to fulfill his orders. After this we really had no idea what to do for the next few hours so we decided to go up to Sared Ceour because it's about the only attraction neither of us have been to on this trip, even though we've both been there before. 

We managed to find a "short cut" up the hill that involved some long flights of stairs. We found a ton of tourists at the top and saw street performers making a fortune. We had another fixed price 3 course meal and walked back down where we passed some very cute shops and markets. We gave up trying to walk all the way back and ended up taking the metro where my boss was nearly robbed by a gang of girls. Luckily he said he felt it coming and moved out of the way quickly. When we got off, a bunch of police was waiting for the girls and arrested them right at the station! Maybe someone reported them right away or they stole a GPS phone?

I think living in HK has really made me not used to dirty spaces and street violence. I usually feel very safe in HK. Maybe it's the density of people. There are always enough "eyes on the street" to keep people from doing random things. There are targeted violence but that's very different. 

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