Near Shanghai # 12

We are back at the dairy today, the same one as yesterday. I am pretty much in the dark from day to day about just what the plan is going to be. Every night I try to ask what time is breakfast, if we are checking out, and where we will be going. I don’t always manage to get my questions understood, so sometimes I just let it be and try to be prepared when the day comes. I knew that today I was going to be doing one or more presentations in the morning. If you remember a couple of months ago I was asked to prepare two presentations, and one was to be on selective dry cow therapy and the other on prevention of transition cow disease. You may also remember that when I gave the selective dry cow therapy presentation the first time, we decided to abort and recover with a discussion about blanket dry cow therapy since nobody in the audience seemed to be interested in what I had to say. (and that I expected this). In the car later that day Kai suggested maybe I build a formal presentation on just blanket dry cow therapy for the talk I was supposed to be doing later in the week. I wasn’t terribly happy about this since I had put a lot of work into those two presentations, and I knew if would take some time to create another talk, and I did not have access to all the resources I normally have in my office, and because I get kind of sketchy internet access here, and because I knew there really was not that much time available, but based on the talk I just gave I figured it would be a rather small crowd and a not terribly scientifically sophisticated one, so what the heck. So I worked off an on for the next couple of days, usually while we were driving or when I couldn’t get back to sleep at 4 am, and I got it done. Then I gave it to Kai so he, Dong, and Hao could start working on the translation.

Then the next day Kai said maybe I should put together a talk on treatment of grade 3 clinical mastitis since there seemed to be a lot of interest in that topic. Once again, I was not entirely happy about this, and now we had even less time, but again, what the heck. Normally I might spend 30 or 40 hours putting together a one hour presentation, but I knew I would not have anywhere near that much time, but Kai said we had a 3.5 hour train ride the next day, so I figured I could get it done then if not before. Plus, it would be a small audience, and none of them could speak English, nor read it, I reasoned, so if it was a little rough around the edges, or if I can to mostly make a few things up along the way, no one would notice anyway. So, as I went through it I did not worry much about the details of spelling, punctuation, or form. No problem.

I managed to finish it about one half way through the train ride to Shanghai, and I gave it to Kai so he, Hao, and Dong could split it up and start translating. They were eager to get started.

Fast forward to today. We are in no hurry to get here; we have a leisurely breakfast beginning a relatively pedestrian 7:00, get in the car around 7:40 and head to the farm. It is a beautiful, sunny morning and the air is reasonably clear. I think Shanghai air is cleaner than Beijing air, although some folks still wear masks here. We go to the farm gate, sign in, put our hands under the hand sanitizer; I am unsure why, and then Kai says, “Hurry! We are late! They are waiting for us!” Go figure. Nobody told me. So we run to the door, and go into the very nice conference room where there are about 30 people milling around. It is a very nice conference room. It looked like this, except that it had more occupants.

Conference room

You may notice every spot has a cup for tea, a bottle of water, and a carton of yogurt. Since yogurt and milk is UHT here, it does not need to be cold. From my point of view, however, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be drank cold though, but that does not concern anyone here. In fact, I have a carton rolling around the back seat of the car right now that we took with us after the talk, and it sure isn’t cold.

At this point in the morning, about 10 minutes after we were supposed to start, I still have little idea of the plan or what I am supposed to do today. No reason to get excited. Kai pulls out his computer and gets it hooked up with the help of the local IT guy, who unsurprisingly has the same aura of IT guys around the world. They just seem to be living in a different dimension that the rest of us, no matter where they are. You can tell. I am thinking it is about time I figure out what I am supposed to do. “So Kai, what is the plan here?” He points to the computer screen which has my newborn dry cow therapy presentation up and ready. “We’re doing dry cow? ” “Yes,” replies Kai as he hands me the microphone and picks one up for himself. “Kai, what’s the point? Nobody can understand one word of what I am saying so why do I need a microphone?” “OK” he replies, and off we go. Of the group of three, meaning Kai, Dong, and Hao, I would choose Hao for a translator. He lived in Boston while getting his master’s and is clearly the best for the task. (He has some funny stories about riding the “Chicken Bus” which was the bus from Boston to NYC that the Chinese preferred to use. It had live chickens underneath in the cargo area for delivery to Chinese restaurants in the city. It smelled like chickens, but it was cheap, so Hao said the Chinese liked it.) Unfortunately we lost Hao yesterday as he had to attend a conference on dairy technology in Shanghai. My next choice would be Dong. He is pretty good. Plus he has this cool sing-songy voice that almost sounds like chanting. I don’t know why he is not my translator. It might be that Kai is smart and seems to know a lot about dairy stuff himself, so even if he does not understand me he can just make stuff up that is still believable. I think he is good at reading English but unfortunately for me, no so good at understanding the spoken word. So Kai and I are a team. It turns out to be pretty hard to give a presentation, especially a technical one, sans pictures with an interpreter. I can’t get the feel of the audience. They don’t laugh at my jokes, unsurprisingly – do they have Ole and Lina here? – and I can’t use suspense, or timing, or changes in inflection or speed, or any of the usual tricks. Looks like I am just going to read lines on a PowerPoint…. Ouch

From what I could tell it was going OK, slow, but OK. But I couldn’t tell. I noticed a lot of spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, since I had been too lazy to proof the thing, and I hadn’t practiced at all, so I think it could have been better. Finally, after an eternity, we finished. We asked for questions, and got some bites from the office. Then there was a loud voice on a speaker behind be, speaking Mandarin, and the screen changed to a scene of another conference room with people inside and looking at us. I’ll be darned; those IT guys had us videoconferencing with another site. Then I noticed six boxes as the bottom, and realized each was a scene from other conference rooms, with people inside, looking at us. There was also a big ” + 6″ by those boxes, which I soon figured meant there were six more sites hooked up. So it looks like our little show was playing in at least a dozen more sites. I can’t believe they all sat through our show. So we took a few questions from some of the remote sites and then a small break. Dong came over and politely said we were doing a great job. I asked him how many people were watching us. “About 2000,’ he replied as he headed for the restroom. Two thousand? I really wish I had run the spell checker now, and maybe done a better job of shaving and selecting my outfit this morning too.

When Kai asked me to prepare the dry cow talk, I knew it would be too short, so I prepared another talk about contagious mastitis just in case. Contagious mastitis appeared to be a bigger issue than in the US, or than I expected so I thought it timely. I also assembled another about culture based treatment by culling a longer version I had used before just in case. I gave it all to Kai to translate as a package. “So Kai, what’s next?” He pointed at the screen and I saw that we were talking about contagious mastitis. I wondered what they had told those 2000 people to expect? That some old coot from the US was just going to talk about something important and that they should listen? And they did? This would never fly in the US. Dong came over and said we should get started, but could we slow down a bit? Slow down? We were already agonal. “Dong, wait. Did you really mean 2000 people?” I said. “Yes, and we are streaming it on the internet so people can watch it on their cell phones. But don’t be nervous.” He smiled.

Well we got though the next one at a snails pace, but like the tortoise, we got there. Took a few questions. I looked at Kai. “Now what?” He pointed at the screen to my talk on treatment of grade three mastitis. “That one? Right now? No break?” I asked. Surely the audience must be mostly in rem sleep by now and we were going to forge ahead anyway. We did, and like the other talks there were some slides out of order than I missed or perhaps Kai moved, and the usual typos and spelling errors that I had ignored. I would I been embarressed but I figured that most couldn’t read it anyway, an if they could they might not be good at grammar or spelling in English.

We finished at 12:04. Just short of four hours, which is a pretty good time if you are running a marathon at my age. It is, however, a long time to sit and listen to someone talk, much less in a foreign language. US students would not have returned after break. If a few did, they would have been on their cell phones in the back. We took some questions and called it good.

Then lunch in the cafeteria before a mandatory rest. Oh, by the way I forgot to mention that another new food I tried last night was frog noodle soup. I asked Dong if they just throw the whole frog in there or just parts. He thought it was bellies and legs. On the way to lunch he said “4000 people.” “What do you mean, I said?” “Look here; 4638 people were watching.” Those IT guys had a way to keep track. I had just done a very long talk to 4,000 people that I had pretty much just made up on the fly… After lunch we did questions and answers with just the original 30 for a couple of hours.

We did it. All done. I fear that considering all the loose ends, a significant amount of my talks wound up to look or sound something like this to the Chinese:


I doubt that is our NFL, and I still have no idea what it means. It was on the wall with a bunch of awards. Yesterday I asked Dong about something I saw in all over the visitor center:


It said “Holstan” with a trademark. I knew this farm was into cattle genetics, so I thought perhaps they developed their own breed, or that this was some product related to Holstein cows. I asked Dong. He said, ” No, it is a species of cattle.” “You mean breed of cattle, like Holstein?” I said. “Yes, that’s it. That is how Chinese pronounce it.” But what about the trademark? And do they really use an “R” trademark like we do? Did they trademark the Holstein breed and not tell anyone?

Welcome to China.

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