Cambridge Linyi Summer School 2012 – Part Three – Talks in Linyi

Friday 10th August

On the Word document controlling the schedule of the summer school, today’s itinerary takes up more room than the rest of the fortnight combined. First up is the official opening ceremony. In the university’s main hall are sixteen armchairs with sixteen steaming pots of green tea set for our group, while the chancellor and the dean make the usual welcoming speeches, before a stream of photographs. After lunch, we are treated to a tour of the campus, and in particular the museum recording the history of the university. The exhibits detailing visits of influential local figures to the building site had an impact that was perhaps slightly lost in translation, but everyone enjoyed the large-scale model of the campus, partly because of its intricacy but also for its assistance in navigating the confusingly sprawling 6km wide site.

An opening banquet is scheduled for the evening, and indeed we turn up at the dining room to find an impressive spread on the lazy Susan. Soups, squids and a whole roasted carp are just the start as the dishes keep on arriving faster than we can possibly make possibly attend to them. We later find out that because the university party chairman could not make the date, this was not in fact the ceremonial dinner. We are intrigued to find out how the banquet could conceivably surpass this?

Saturday 11th August

The mathematical programme begins. For three days there is a series of seminars given by the Cambridge contigent and staff and students from Linyi, all in English. The quality is naturally quite mixed, but I doubt my mathematics would be up to much if I had to deliver a talk in Chinese! There is some confusion about pre-requisite knowledge: Georgios’ talk on ‘Post-Grothendieck Categorical Galois Theory’ gets off to a shaky start when the local students make it clear that they know neither what a category nor a Galois group is. Even the notion of a group causes some murmurings, so he decides to start from the very beginning instead. I don’t mind in the least: now I know the definition of a category! As lunch and dinner come round again, it becomes clear that last night’s feast was no rarity. The campus shop’s selection of red bean paste flavoured ice cream is also a new candidate for my favourite thing ever. My worries about eating well are no longer. For the princely sum of 6 Yuan (about 60p), we find a bottle of the local spirit from the campus supermarket. It smells like over-fermented Malibu but has a surprisingly complicated palate. The initial sensation of peaches gives way to something more woody and finally a heady aftertaste of anti-freeze.

Sunday 12th August

Another full day of seminars. The maths department at Linyi seems to specialise in graph theory, so I get to remind myself of the world of hyper-edges and vertex colouring problems. The highlight of the day is a trip into town. Well, I say town, but in fact Linyi is a city of 10 million people, according to Wikipedia. In spite of that, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to do in the centre of town, at least by the standards of Western cities. We have a look at the People’s Square then find a rapid restaurant, where a plate of noodles is a nice change from the rice that is the staple at the university. Afterwards, there are plans to find a bar, but Linyi seems to be somewhat lacking. Instead we check out a supermarket, where the few who remain outside are a major tourist attraction, and the rest of us examine the spirits aisle, where the local brew comes in varieties ranging from 6 to 17,000 Yuan. Unsurprisingly, the student mentality remains and we aim for the lower end of that range. An interesting evening, but with two weeks here remaining, it is slightly worrying that we might already have seen the best of Linyi.

Monday 13th August

I give my research seminar this morning. I choose to talk about coalescence, in particular the multiplicative kernel, essentially describing the skeleton of my Part III essay. It seemed reasonably suitable as it was possible to talk about several ideas and methodologies without actually working through any of the analysis involved in full. It also seemed an excellent opportunity to practise giving a talk on very little preparation. After all, apart from about five Cambridge people, no-one in the audience spoke much English… It was clear from the platform that many of the local undergraduates were engaged in other activities, and most of the remainder just smiled and nodded irrespective of the content. Nonetheless a worthwhile experience. Later, we were able to get into the university’s sports centre. On the ground floor we were greeted by the sight of thirty yellow-shirted ten year olds practising table tennis backhands in regimented unison with astonishing efficiency. The rooms upstairs were a bit less congested, and it was excellent to work off some energy in a way that maths can never quite achieve. And I suspect that by the time we leave, we may all be quite a lot better at badminton!

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