Happy summer everyone (in the northern hemisphere)!
Earlier this year our colleague in Hong Kong asked if my London lab could come over to assist on a project that wasn’t going so well. Basically, for most professors working at universities you have to apply for grants to do your research. Life science research is very expensive and very competitive, much like a sport, where you always have to be the best in order to get money to continue your research. The funding bodies are governmental or private and receive shitloads of applications every year. In the grants you outline your aims and ideas and what you want to achieve with the money you apply for. In some countries you are given some slack if you cannot meet all your aims, in other countries you get penalised. The Chinese funding bodies are very strict when it comes to delivering on your grant goals.
We flew over to Hong Kong to inject some of our circadian expertise in designing experiments and helping the PhD students getting some data to help the lab meet the grant goals. For me, early in my researcher career, it is very good to be exposed to other labs with different kinds of projects and techniques. Since you are short on time you also have to think on your feet and really engage in the project. If I do a good job, there might be a publication (publications are currency for scientist, nobody wants to hire somebody with a low publication count).
In HK we stayed with our colleague in his gorgeous flat out in the new territories. It has the most amazing views. Our colleague is also quite a party boy with a serious capacity for champagne. We always have a lot of fun with him, I have however promised that what happens in HK stays in HK, and it most of the trip has to remain a secret... Being in Hong Kong and being taken around by these expats is like catching a glimpse of a dying British empire. The mannerisms and the lifestyle is quite bizarrely inflated in comparison to how their life would have been in the UK. Anyway, enough about science politics and expats.
Here is a little summary of what I was up to when we weren’t in the lab:
Our first day in HK was pretty chilled (as in relaxed - the government had issued a hot weather warning). We were picked up at the airport by our colleagues and were immediately handed “road sodas” (which in this case was mimosas, although they are often cocktails or Champagne) before we headed back to his flat. The maid (everyone has a maid in HK) had made our beds and everything was in perfect order. After getting cleaned up we headed over to Sai Kung to have dinner and had a little walk around looking at the fish tanks in the seafood restaurants.
The following day was mostly spent in the lab with a trip out to the yacht club (not the fancy one) for drinks and dinner. Last year we were introduced to diplomats, this year we met the most successful barrister in Hong Kong. They are usually drunk, but friendly.
Saturday was super hot, and we were going to watch rugby in Mong Kok. These bloody expat men are made of fucking plasma, and managed to sit in the sun and roast watching the game and drinking litres of beers. My delicate body needed shade and water on the other hand, and I had to upgrade to a shaded seat. Rugby is a bit difficult to watch live as its just usually a pile of men somewhere on the pitch, and you can't see the ball because it is under one of them. The last few minutes of the match was however quite exciting, with the Japanese team the Sun Wolves inching their way to victory over the South African team Stormers.
Saturday was also the day for the royal wedding. Post Rugby the boys took us to a pub to watch the wedding. Since none of us clearly knows anything about celebrities, we competed in who could name the most celebs. Nobody won.
Sunday was our ‘day off’ so we headed down town on the Hong Kong railway system called the MTR. Taking the tram up to the peak is one of the most recommended HK activities by Lonely Planet. IT IS NOT FUCKING WORTH 2 hours of queuing in the heat (DON'T DO IT). Take a cab or a bus up if there is a line. Or walk. The view from the peak is spectacular though, and there is a path you can walk down and ends up in the botanical and zoological gardens (which are free).
After some ice creams we headed down to the docks passing central Hong Kong. Sunday is the official maid’s day off and they gather in their thousands. They bring food and have all day picnics in the streets. A lot of them were rehearsing choreographies making up little dancing troops, probably dreaming of a life completely different to the one they are living. There are over 330 000 women, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines working as domestic workers in Hong Kong. That means there is one maid per 20 inhabitants! A lot of them are treated very badly by their employers, but there is also a general attitude in the population that Filipinos and Indonesians are second rate citizens.
In the evening we took the ferry from the island over to Kowloon. It has the classic Hong Kong skyline view. It was also approaching dinner time and we found ourselves in increasingly fancier areas. A day of walking in hot and humid weather is not good for your good looks, and we looked like drowned cats and probably smelled bad too. We tried our luck anyway at Hullett House and to our surprise they gave us a table! The food was great too.
Snaps from my phone of HKUST campus
Monday we were back in the lab, trying out stuff and were surprisingly successful. It was also the special occasion of our colleagues 60th birthday. He wanted to spend his day at the local pub which held a darts competition for anyone who dared to join. It ended up being quite a fun evening and I never realised that darts could actually be so engaging.
Tuesday was good workday and a quiet day at home after dinner. Wednesday was much like Tuesday, except I had to go into application mode for half of the day. We are applying for another expedition on a research ship called the Sonne. Our group of scientists decided they wanted to try and pound in an application for a trans-pacific expedition next year, so I had a few days to write an application on the behalf of our lab. I have really wanted to go on another research expedition to do more work on deep-sea fish so I really hope they will consider us!
Lung Ha Wan Country Trail
On Thursday our colleague flew to Shetland where he has his 60th birthday party, while we were left in charge of the house and the lab. Instead of working on Friday we thought we had deserved a day off. The new territories are really nice in terms of nature, but spring and summer is a bad time of year to visit because of the high temperatures and humidity. We decided that we should attempt a short hill walk regardless. (Spoiler alert, it was a bad idea). The Lung Ha Wan Country Trail looked like an excellent short walk for such a hot day. Not too much of a climb and not too far. Wrong. I struggled so badly to breathe walking up hill. The hot and humid air makes it feel like you can only use 10% of your lungs. To make matters worse for my ego, we met a lot of old people on the trail (not struggling). The only comfort my ego can find is that we were not passed by anybody, but that was probably more due to the fact that everybody was walking in the opposite direction to us. I have never been so wet from a hike before. We made it up and down, and to our delight, there was a kiosk selling ice cold drinks at the end of the trail.
In the evening two of the students took us out to Mong Kok to the ladies market and to eat Korean BBQ. It was surprisingly pleasant, and I love reading the names of the knock-offs they sell in the market, such as Clavin Keiln and Parda. To my surprise there were so many fake Fjällräven items. People keep saying Hong Kong is such a busy city, but I still find central London on a Friday way worse in terms of crowds than central Hong Kong on a Friday.
On our last day, we went all the way from Clear Water Bay over to the wetland centre at Tin Shui Wai. The wetland centre is adjacent to the famous Mai Po marshes. At Mai Po you have to apply for a permit to enter, while at the wetland centre, which is a proper built up place for families and tourists, you pay 30 HK dollars (3 euros) to get in. Late May is totally the wrong time of year to go to HK to birdwatch, but it was worth a try and we had some luck spotting a prinia chick being fed by its mother, mudskippers and some juvenile scops owls.
All in all, the HK trip was a success in terms of work, and I also got to see more of it this time. I would love to come back in the winter when the weather is cooler.
I got some really lovely comments on the last blog post which made me so happy! Thanks a lot for your kind words :)