Pretty Boy and I have returned! I presented my research at a conference in Kyoto, Japan back in July, and enough of my expenses were covered that we could afford for Pretty Boy to come along too! We were gone for two weeks and visited Japan and Hong Kong. A quick overview of the trip: the conference went from Sunday to Friday the first week. We stayed in Japan until Wednesday for another four days of sight-seeing. Wednesday was lost in transit to Hong Kong. We had three days in Hong Kong, and flew overnight Saturday back to Australia. We’ve got tons of pictures to share, and I might have to feature a guest post by Pretty Boy himself since he did a lot of exploring on his own while I was in the conference the first week.
When I first started planning my trip to the conference and Pretty Boy’s possible accompaniment, I was very excited when I learned Cathay Pacific was one of the cheaper airlines to fly from Canberra to Osaka for our trip to Japan. Cathay is our favorite airline, and if we flew Cathay, it would mean a layover in Hong Kong. We love Hong Kong even if it’s just for a few hours on a layover. Then I learned that Dr. Sam would be in Hong Kong at the same time as we would be passing through on our return to Australia. So I checked and was even more excited to learn that a three hour layover in Hong Kong versus a three day layover in Hong Kong were the same price. So that’s how we ended up visiting Japan and got a few days in Hong Kong.
Getting to Japan, we were scheduled to fly a QantasLink flight to Melbourne where we would connect on a Cathay flight to Hong Kong and connect again on a Cathay flight to Osaka. But our Qantas flight was delayed and we just missed our connection in Melbourne. Bummer! The next two flights later that night that could have gotten us to Osaka were both oversold, so Qantas put us up in the airport hotel and we had to wait until the following morning to get to Osaka. It meant that instead of flying over night Saturday night and arriving early Sunday, we had to fly all day Sunday, arriving late late at night. It was too bad that we lost a full day in Japan, but the Qantas lady in Melbourne that helped us was awesome and took good care of us. And flying during the day meant we lost the day, but it also meant that we weren’t on a red-eye flight and exhausted on arrival because of it.
The coolest part about being at the Melbourne airport was spotting an Airbus A380 airplane. Man, those things are huge!
After a early morning flight and really quick connection, we made it. We flew into the Osaka Kansai International Airport and took one of the last buses leaving the airport at around 1 am in the morning and slept the 45 minutes it took to drive from the airport to the Kyoto city center. The transition from mild winter in Australia to full on summer in Kyoto was something I was not ready for. Though I knew it was coming, there really wasn’t anything I could do to prepare except pack ALL my summer clothes and remember to keep hydrated. The heat and humidity were like a slap in the face. But like a slap that you kind of like because you’ve just been cold for so damned long. And by you, I mean me. The time difference between Canberra and Kyoto is only -1 hour, but the difference in latitude is rather more: 35 deg south for Canberra, 35 degrees north for Kyoto. Having absolutely no practice dealing with crossing the equator, I would take crossing time zones over crossing the equator anytime. Let me tell you, it was so, so nice not to be jetlagged!
My conference went really well. There were some great keynote speeches and presentations. There were some not so great keynotes and speeches. I gave a pretty stellar presentation to a disappointing-sized audience, but that’s what happens when a presentation is scheduled in the afternoon right after a coffee break… no one comes back from the break. It was disappointing because the audience was small and unengaged, but my advisor, who was in the audience, was happy with the presentation, and the small audience meant I didn’t get asked any really difficult questions (the greatest fear at any conference presenter, though I have practice with difficult audiences and know when to say I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me as much).
I must say that two most surprising things about the conference were my excitement over hearing/seeing other Americans and the difficulty I had networking. There were a fair number of Americans at the conference and hearing other people who sounded like me, who spoke in such a familiar way, was actually quite comforting. I didn’t realize how disconcerting it can be to constantly be surrounded by people who sound and speak in a different way. I definitely confused more than one American when they saw that my name badge said Australia but once I started speaking, they would all say, “Wait, you’re not Australian, are you?” No, no I am not.
As for networking, I have a theory as to why it was particularly hard for me to network at this event. The event was largely segregated into two groups: those who were comfortable speaking casual English and those who were not. Of the people I met, those who were comfortable speaking English were people from America, Europe, South Africa, Australia, places where higher education happens in English. Those who were not were from Japan and China, where higher education happens in the local language. To many of the people comfortable speaking English, I think I looked like someone who might not be comfortable speaking English. But to the Chinese and Japanese, I think I definitely looked Western. People would smile at me and act friendly, but wouldn’t make the jump to starting conversations. If I finally started talking, people seemed relieved that I was a competent English speaker. It is unfortunate how much of a disadvantage being a non-native English speaker is in the research community, and I have never felt so grateful or guilty that English is my first language.
There was an awards banquet on Thursday night, that I had a ticket for, included in my conference registration, but we neglected to buy an extra ticket for Pretty Boy. As luck would have it, a colleague left Kyoto early and gave us his extra ticket, so we both got to go have a really nice dinner at the conference center and I got to introduce Pretty Boy to some of the people I met. It was an exhausting week. By the last day, I was so happy for it to be over, but overally it was good: I got to met some big names in my research field and learn about a lot of really interesting research related to my topic that is going on all over the world.
After we returned from Japan, we needed some time to recover from the trip and deal with the strongest homesickness we’ve both experienced since moving here. I also had a very busy few weeks at school. Then I celebrated my 30th birthday with a long weekend trip to Cairns in Queensland. And then another even busier few weeks at school. Grad school induced dry-spells on the blog are something I am all too familiar with, but stay tuned for the rest of our adventures around Kyoto and in Nara, Hong Kong, and Cairns.