Sunday, May 14, 2017

#WIDOMSUMVAC — Shanghai: Day One

Arrived about 2:00PM SUN 14 MAY on the 15-hour flight from Dallas (DFW), to the Shanghai International Airport (PVG), remarkably rested as I managed to sleep 10 hours on the plane. How do I do it? (Sleep on the plane.) Well after years of experimentation, I have the following protocol. My flight from Baton Rouge (BTR) to DFW left at 6:30AM, so I had to leave for the airport via my trusty shuttle driver Faze (for whom the Faze uncertainty is below the shotnoise limit) and so I simply did not sleep at all Saturday night.

My flight arrived at DFW around 9:00AM on SAT 13 MAY, and then my flight from DFW to PVG left DFW at 10:30AM, which is about 11:30PM in Shanghai (then next day) and time for me to go to sleep at my destination so that is when I must go to sleep on the plane. After the plane takes off they have a drink service so I take a melatonin, a sleeping pill, and two Benadryl tablets with a glass of wine, and then (with dinner) I have another glass of wine, and then it’s less like going to sleep and more like going into a drug-induced coma.

In the plane they give you a small pillow and blanket. I place the blanket on the seat for more cushioning and the small pillow under my lower back for lumbar support. Then — and here is the trick — I place those small foam earplugs in my ear canals, and then my over-the-ear Bose noise-cancelling headphones on top of that. This acts as a dual spectrum filter. The headphones are designed to kill off low-frequency sound like engine noise but are hopeless at the high frequency of people talking or babies crying. The foam earplugs handle the high frequency. Then on goes the eyeshade thing, and I use my jacket for a blanket — and then I have almost complete sensory deprivation. The system cannot handle smell or touch, so if the person next to you wears weaponized cologne or the toddler behind you decides to kick the back of your seat for 15 hours (with weaponized sneakers), then you may be out of luck.

 Chenglong and his sign at the airport.

I’m now a pro at using WeChat (WhatsApp for China) and my LSU PhD student Chenglong You was there to meet me at the airport (he having arrived a couple of days earlier to carry out advanced reconnaissance). I told him to hold up a sign with my name after baggage claim, but he did not (claiming I would be easy to spot even if by the sound of my voice alone), and so I handed him an old conference nametag from my computer bag and made him hold it up for a proper photo-op prop.

Then using the Chinese ride service DiDi (the Chinese Uber), Chenglong scored a nice ride to my hotel for only about $7US. (If I had instead used one the shady illegal taxis, whose salespersons stalk the airport like vultures, it would have been $70US.) The ride took about an hour and Chenglong and I planned what physics to do in the next two weeks. To return the favor for the ride, after checking into my hotel, I treated Chenglong to dumplings (jiǎozi) for lunch and then picked myself up some beer and pistachios for dinner, at the local equivalent to the 7-11. 

 Chenglong's dumplings.

It is now nearly 8PM on SUN 14 MAY and the meetings with Tim Byrnes’s group at NYU Shanghai start tomorrow. My second LSU PhD student, Sushovit Adhikari, arrives around 11PM tonight from Katmandu via Chengdu, and Chenglong the Merciful, is back to the airport to meet him. 

Tim holds daily group meetings for his postdocs and students that he calls “Core Time” but these are cancelled for the two weeks that I am in town, and we change it to “Chaos Time” where we all argue with each other, write equations on the white board, read papers on the big LCD screen, and brainstorm up all the ideas in week one. Then in week two we write them all up and I leave. Sushovit and Chenglong will stay on for another six weeks to collaborate with Tim and his group and continue project of joint collaboration. This is how I insure LSU PhD students in physics get an international training.

As my Chinese students tell me the only word in Mandarin I can pronounce perfectly is beer (píjiǔ) — which since I’m Irish what did you expect? — and so with one bottle of Tsingtao beer and some pistachios sitting here next to me as I type I expect the lords of jet lag to take me soon. Thank the lords of caffeine there is a Starbucks just outside the front door of my hotel next to NYU Shanghai for the AM Chaos Time.

 Chinese cure for my jet lag.



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