In 2009, the Royal Society of Chemistry signed a cooperation agreement with the State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), a division of the Chinese Government. As part of a wider governmental initiative to enhance the global impact of Chinese science and China’s higher education institutions, the RSC and SAFEA provide funding for a Visiting Researchers Programme. This encourages academics from the UK to visit Chinese universities to share best practice, advise Chinese researchers on presenting their research to an international audience and to stimulate collaboration between UK and Chinese institutions.
This blog provides a space for participants to share their experiences and for the RSC to highlight the opportunities that stem from the SAFEA programme.

*The map is reproduced from the United Nations Statistics Division

Molecular Magnetism and Kampai: Diary of Malcolm Halcrow in Xiamen, Guangzhou and Shanghai

Malcolm Halcrow, currently Professor at the University of Leeds, was one of the recipients of the 2015 SAFEA-RSC visiting researchers travel grants. He spent 12 days in China travelling to 3 cities. Below is a summary of his trip diary.
May 10-18: Xiamen University (hosted by Professor Jun Tao)
May 18-20: Sun-Yat Sen University (hosted by Professor Ming-Liang Tong)
May 20-22: Jiaxing University (hosted Professor Xiaoming Liu)


Xiamen University (7 days)
I flew into Hong Kong early on Sunday morning, then arrived in Xiamen at around 11:30 am. I was met by two students, Mr Zhang and Ms Wang, who were very friendly and helpful. They took me to my hotel by taxi, then to lunch at a nearby mall where we had a Sichuan-style fish stew. They left me back at the hotel for a couple of hours, then met me for dinner with Prof Jun Tao and four of his group. The dinner was again a lot of fish and seafood, which seems to be a regional speciality. We then all retired to another room for tea, made and served by Professor Tao.

He gave me quite a detailed schedule for my week in Xiamen, which is fine. They looked after me well but also working me hard – I gave six lectures of one type or another while I was here.

During the next 7 days in Xiamen, I was taken on a tour of the campus which has a good number of older buildings, including a group of five buildings dating from the formation of the University 110 years ago. Some of these are still used as classrooms. There’s also a large lake at the centre of the campus, and a beach! These picturesque qualities may explain why the campus was full of tourists when I arrived.

I spent most of the days discussing research with Professor Tao’s students, and giving tutorial lectures on molecular magnetism to his group. My research presentation to the faculty went well. The room was quite full, and I got a lot of questions afterwards from faculty and students.

I also met the Dean of the Chemistry College, Professor Jiang, and shared a good discussion about different approaches towards research and teaching in our countries. He was particularly concerned about the mathematical ability of Chinese students, which I found surprising. However, from conversations with the PhD and Masters students I can see what he means. Some of them were unwilling to engage with the equations needed to properly interpret the measurements they had done, which are cumbersome but not especially difficult. Professor Jiang has visited the UK recently, and has good contacts with Manchester and Southampton chemistry departments.

From Left to Right: Professor Yun-BaoJiang  (Dean of College, Xiamen University); me; and Professor Jun Tao

The first few days of sightseeing included a visit to a large temple (where all the monks in Fujian were sent during the Cultural Revolution period), a moderately strenuous climb up a mountain at the back of the temple with good views over the city and a street-food market with a traditional play being performed outside another temple to the sea. 

On the 14th May, Mr Lei from the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) came with a colleague Ms. Li for a networking visit to Xiamen. I met him with Prof Jun Tao, and two of his colleagues from Xiamen University international office. I learnt that Mr Lei is moving to London next month to head the China International Exchange UK office.

SAFEA networking visit in Xiamen with Mr Fengyun Lei (2nd from the left)

Other outings consisted of a visit to Gulang Island and a group excursion, to Hongkeng Tulou world heritage site. The latter site was a traditional Fujian village, with a cluster of tulou houses which are enclosed multiple-dwelling structures made from mud-brick (a kind of early high-rise, up to four storeys high, 200-400 years old although they are obviously regularly restored). Extended families lived in them, for defense against bandits and against the weather. 

I must remember never to hire a car in China. The minibus driver to Hongkeng was "a maniac". We probably spent more of the journey on the wrong side of the road than on the right side, overtaking on blind corners on twisty mountain roads. There was a traffic hold-up at one spot, where they were knocking rocks down a hill and onto the road. Every 20 minutes they would bulldoze up the rocks and let cars through. We turned up at the wrong time on the way back, and it became a complete free-for-all with cars and buses trying to jump the queue and grid-locking the road.

The final evening with Professor Tao was when the hard liquor came out. Moutai tastes like Japanese shouchu but is twice as strong (50 % proof) and, by the sound of it, twice as expensive. Everyone kampai'd me of course, so I think I drank half the bottle on my own. There was also a bottle of Australian red for when the moutai ran out. As an accompaniment, among other things, we had large pork ribs sealed in foil, drenched in alcohol and set alight at the table. I went for tea with the student hosts afterwards, and said my farewells. I saw Professor Tao for the last time on this trip the next morning, when he took me to Xiamen airport and saw me through check-in.

Guangzhou and Shanghai (4 days)
In addition to the visit in Xiamen, I took the opportunity to visit other potential collaborators in Guangzhou and Jiaxing (near Shanghai). I have learnt a lot about the Chinese culture, different foods, the exchange of gifts and souvenirs, and consecutive nights of drinking 50 % proof spirit (Cheers = Kampai). It is also worth noting the dedication of some of the students. One student asked for my autograph, while someone told me she had taken an 8 hour train ride just to see me (!!). After many photographs and dinners, I sampled many different foods, cheap as well as super expensive ones. Of note is a memorable chicken soup, with a chicken foot at the bottom of each bowl. Noone ate the foot so I didn't either. I got kampai'd excessively at meals and they kept refilling the "wine" jug. 

My trip was successful, and enjoyable and educational for me as an introduction to China. Several people pointed out to me that funding mechanisms exist for potential joint projects. Throughout the week in Xiamen, I taught Professor Tao’s students some magnetochemistry and trouble-shooted their research problems, while I learned something of China and Chinese universities. So, I think both of us got value from the experience. The research facilities that I visited are comprehensive and modern. Some students had excellent pedigree. For example, in the taxi from Guangzhou airport, I chatted to a student who had 14 papers, had spent a year at Berkeley, and had just gone to France for a post-doc one of the world-leading groups in molecular magnetism.

Posted by Kathleen Too on May 27, 2015 11:05 AM Europe/London

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