Harbin cont: big city, transgenic trees, and a restaurant that glorifies all things Mao.

O.K. I have a few minutes to scribble some stuff here, so here goes.

I’ve had a chance to tour Harbin a little more the last little while, and the one thing I can state is that it is a seriously big city. I guess you get use to hearing about Shanghai and Beijing being the “big” cities, but Harbin is no walk over. According to my Lonely Planet guide, the population is about 3 million, but my guide is at least two years old, and the locals here have been telling me that its probably closer to 10 million.

This, I’ll have to check when I get back to Canada, but 10 million! Holy shit – no wonder the city seems to stretch forever. The skyline is also quite impressive. Chinese architecture seems to have a thing for big tall structures (albeit in a sort of Edward Scissorhands sort of way). Traffic is also horrendous here. No stereotypical parade of bicycles here – just gridlock after gridlock of cars and trucks.


Life here is definitely fueled by capitalism principles,all closely overlooked by the communist law of the land. But overall, the citizens here seem to enjoy the same sorts of freedoms we have in Canada. People do seem very content. My hosts have been explaining in broken English, that “things are very good here – it is easy to be colorful today. Maybe 20, 10 years ago, not so easy to be colorful. But now no problem.”

Yesterday, I had a chance to give a few talks at “Normal University” one of the 10 universities in the city. This one specializes in training teachers. In fact, about 20,000 students are on this particular campus, a campus that is remarkable because the vast majority of it was built in the last 3 or so years (you think UBC has a lot of construction – it doesn’t hold a dime to what this place must’ve been like).

I’ve also managed to get a bit of the lowdown on their transgenic policies (although again, I would need to verify when I return). Overall, it seems that the Chinese government is relatively gungho on this technology, and whilst I’m not sure how the government views the environmental, health, and econimic concerns of this science, it’s definitely clear that the students I’ve interacted with are cogniscent and at times even passionate about the debate. Seems like most of the urban population is guarded against such things, whereas it sounds like rural farmers are really not that informed about it, despite being the ones who use the GM seed frequently.


A greenhouse for tree research

China also appears to be doing a fair amount of science on transgenic trees. Similar to the pine beetle crisis in British Columbia, there have been some serious issues in both the forestry and agricultural sectors because of climate change. Anyway, their transgenic policy certainly doesn’t sound as stringent as what is in Canada, where the idea of a transgenic tree would hit the roof. Still, it will be interesting to follow this storyline as time progresses – it does make me a little uncomfortable, but then again, I know the full details, so will follow up when I return.

Changing subjects: Last night, I had a chance to visit a very interesting restaurant, which almost in a glitzy way, glorified the Mao and the cultural revolution. It was literally like a theme park, with musical acts, everyone dress in the attire of that period – all very striking. I wasn’t suppose to take photos in there, but I manage to get some taken anyway.


Sort of a hard rock cafe of Mao thing going on

Anyway, off to yet another university today. Oh yeah – in case you read the previous post, using the word sh*t in my presentation didn’t seem to be a problem at all. If anything, the students seemed to like the informal nature of my talk, which I suspect was quite different from some of the lectures they usually recieve.


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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and boingboing.net. He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at popperfont.net.