The one thing I wish they could've done for us here was to get us internet access in our rooms. As it is, the current arrangement sees us walking to Fisher building (where I'm sitting now) to get wireless access, which is fairly inconvenient.
We leave tomorrow before lunch. This conference has gone by quite quickly. I've gone from being grumpy about being here so soon after reservists to the current state of being antsy to go home to wife and family, with a brief middle phase where I thought "It's not too bad after all".
It really isn't too bad. Conference aside (of which the usual gripes pertain), the venue could not have been more beautiful. St John's College is a lovely location to hold any event - it's funny to be going to seminars and workshop sessions while tourists are walking around you taking photographs. Every day I cross the Bridge of Sighs to get to and from the lecture venues, and look down to see people punting on the river (though until the weather took a turn for the better today, I thought them all mad to be punting in such cold and rain).
I've decided that the food is, on the whole, weird. The catering service here seems to using us as experimental subjects for some truly bizarre dishes. I like fish. I'm ok with fish. But 3 kinds of fish stuffed into a pastry and baked is just ... odd. Breakfast is the best meal for the simple reason that you can pick whatever you want - which in my case is prosaic old eggs and bacon. Lunch and dinner are at the mercy of the menu - some of my friends here have already retreated from dinner to instant noodles in their rooms, which gives you some idea of how the dinner is like. Me, I'm soldiering on, partly out of a sense of moral obligation linked to the cost of this conference which has been paid for me, and partly out of a morbid curiousity to see what they'll throw at us next. Tonight's dinner is the last, so logic dictates that the chef will pull out all stops and surprise us with something even more out of the box. I will find out in half an hour's time.
The best part of dinner is the conversations with the people who are here with us. Topics have included, but not been limited to:
- fruitarianism, as a logical extension of the ethics of non-harm (eating only fruits, so that not even a vegetable has to die to feed you - though there was an argument raised that if fruits were analagous to embryos, then ... )
- a universal declaration of community rights (in addition to and in contrast to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses on individual rights)
- why China never developed dairy foods, and whether any of us had ever (knowingly or not) consumed horse's milk
- conspicuous waste, and conspicuous consumption, vis a vis traditional Chinese dinners
- environmentalism and sustainable energy sources
- Wing Chun kung-fu
The other great highlight was a tour of the library at St Johns. If you love the smell of old books, creased leather and crinkled paper, imagine 20,000 of them in a space that is architecturally like a chapel (appropriate for a place dedicated to books). The librarian gave a fantastic tour, full of information, anecdote and good humour, and most of us were just content to wander through the shelves and pick up old tomes (and I would use the word tomes to describe them) and thumb through them reverentially.
I've done more shopping than I intended, which has entailed buying a bag to hold all the stuff. It's the books that take up the most space, but they're good buys, and well worth it. I've had to do some serious wrapping and packing to get things to fit, but on the whole, should manage to carry all the stuff back.
We go to London tomorrow, where we'll have another day before we make the journey back, and hopefully I'll be able to post more of the photos I've taken - for some reason, the connection here is just not agreeing with flickr.