The onset of the Easter holidays bought a trip to the East that many would envy. Perhaps put off by the innocuous phrase “3rd International Scientific Writing Course”, one might offer polite noises but a firm rebuttal. Though, Paul Tam who had organised said meeting simply inferred that as Jay Grosfeld had attended the 2nd meeting then I as a representative of the Journal ought to take his place. Ah well why not.I learned that the course was aimed at mainland Chinese paediatric surgeons, young and old with English very much their 2nd language. It did involve a lot of preparation with 4 new PowerPoint presentations on “Abstract preparation & presentation”, “Research: Why, What, and When” etc. But it forced a re-evaluation on structure and some re-reading on exactly what the Helsinki Declaration was and real definitions of PICO, IDEAL and a CONSORT. So armed with much knowledge I left Heathrow on BA 032 and woke up in Hong Kong – the bridge to the East. There me and my now fellow travellers Paul Tam, Ken Wong, and Patrick Chung from Queen Mary Hospital, HK set off to board a flight to Wuhan the 6th most populous city in China situated in the central province of Hubei and critically one built on the banks of the Yangtze, at almost 4,000 miles the longest river in China. China, is a mass of superlatives and the key one that gives many others context is its population. This is estimated at 1.3 billion. An unbelievable figure which works out as 21 times the entire population of the UK in an area equivalent to the continental USA. Or alternatively Wuhan itself, though it’s a safe bet that you have never heard of the place, has a population 1.5 times that of metropolitan London. Though the “one child one family “ rule has been recently relaxed, it is clear that the number is still rising. Huge numbers arrive in the city and the high rises rose to accommodate. Cranes are everywhere which is ironic as the Great Yellow Crane is the symbol of the city. With the population comes the paediatric surgeons of course and the focus of the course, of course(!). From my editorial vantage, I see an ever increasing number of papers from Chinese institutions on clinical series we can but dream of in the west, particularly in my own hepatobiliary field. Literate and scientific quality is also on an upward spiral and it was this that the course was designed to facilitate. The course was fine, but I did note that I, as the only native English, English-speaker as it were, had to be translated into Mandarin as I spoke. The other native English-speaking international speaker being that legend of American paediatric surgery, Arnie Coran. Obviously my accent was a bit more broad than I had thought; certainly by comparison to one originating in Boston, Massachusetts! The after-course events were superb; those Chinese do love a good banquet! Indeed on one night there was the public one and a more select one for the local department and faculty immediately afterwards. Local delicacies include the boiled root of the Lotus, Wu Fang Zhai rice balls, Wuchang fish and Cailinji dry noodles interspersed with a whole panoply of tortoise, fried chicken feet, and assorted shellfish. Did I mention the tortoise?
As an added incentive the hosts Profs. Jiexiong Feng and Jixin Yang also organised a trip up the Yangtze, specifically one involving a river cruise through the famous Three Gorges. This was a delight, not the least to be in the company of Arnie Coran and his feisty wife Susi. The two have entertained many conferences over the years and retain all the sparkle and wit of that golden American generation of the 1970s and 80s. He is still in great demand throughout the world as an operating surgeon and go-to guy for the complicated stuff in and around the ano-rectum and oesophagus.The Three Gorges are the most spectacular natural river environs and are enjoyed by thousands; both native Chinese tourists and the international travelling community. The controversial Three Gorges Dam Project was also a lesson in how things are done in China. Biggest dam ever, 180 m high, huge eco-efficient “clean” hydroelectric output (100 TWh annually) but it raised the water levels on the upper Yangtze by 90 m or so. All the riverside communities were flooded and up to a million or so people had to be relocated to new cities higher up and it was all achieved in 10 years. Compare that to our “high-speed” rail track (HS2) to Birmingham which will by stymied all along the way by the threat to the Greater Crested Newt, Brock the badger and 1000 individual court actions from Aylesbury Golf Club and backwoodsmen in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Leamington Spa.
The last stop on the tour was the city of Chongqing, the capital during the last war against the Japanese, and again now with a mega-population of 30 million souls. Food here tends to be drawn in from the adjacent Sichuan province and is a touch on the spicy side. Nonetheless it is gloriously flavoursome while it strips the oesophageal mucosa from the muscularis on the way down. The typical dish was something call HotPot (fair warning, and a far distance from the Lancashire Hotpot made by my grandma). This was presented as in a Ying and Yang pot constantly heated and topped up with broth, meats and shrimp, and meant to be dunked in the Swiss fondue fashion.