My First Trips

On my first trip for UNU/IIST, I visited one place as a member of a delegation from UNU/IIST, and on my second trip for UNU/IIST, I visited different places in one go on my own.

On the first trip, we visited the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou with the purpose to establish a certain kind of cooperation between UNU/IIST and this university. For this end, the members of the delegation from UNU/IIST gave lectures about their research or development work and discussed relevant issues with academics from the South China University of Technology. All this led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding and to the invitation of someone to become a UNU/IIST fellow.

Our hotel in Guangzhou was the White Swan Hotel, which is situated on an island in the Pearl River. In the past, this island had been the area where Europeans were allowed to stay to do business with the Chinese. Buildings on the island reminded of England, Portugal and the Netherlands. The hotel was a five-star hotel. On each floor, there were two women at the lifts to press the button for you and to alert you to the opening of lift doors. If you returned to you room after a short or long absence, the end of the toilet roll was folded in a pointed tip. I did not know why we were lodged in this luxury hotel. I considered staying in this hotel a nice experience, but the luxury was of course overdone.

Two thing struck me most in Guangzhou: the market where animals of many species were sold for consumption and the elevated highways. I am no vegetarian. I like, for example, a beefsteak. However, consuming virtually all animal species palls on me. On the other hand, for what reason do I exclude certain species that are not endangered from consumption? Guangzhou is full of elevated highways. It surprised me that so many elevated highways had been built in existing narrow streets. Because of this, many front rooms were extremely close to the elevated highways and many front rooms were deprived of sunlight. Moreover, it surprised me that the grounds below the elevated highways were often used to grow leaf vegetables, mainly pak-choi cabbage. It seemed to me that these vegetables cannot be healthy.

On the second trip, I visited seven different places with two different purposes. All places were in Europe, except for one. This meant that I could visit my family for a few days as well. The trip began at the end of April 1996 and took about three weeks, including a few free days that I spent at home in Voorschoten with my family. I will not go into details about the meetings that I attended and the lectures that I gave. I will neither go into details of the successfulness of the visits.

I visited Bremen, Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Newcastle upon Tyne to explore the possibility of collaboration with research institutes in the European Union. My hosts in these cities were Otthein Herzog, director of the Center for Computing and Communication Technologies of the University of Bremen, Gerard van Oortmerssen, director of the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI), René Jacquart, head of the Computer Science Department of the Centre d’Études et de Recherches de Toulouse — Office National d’Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales (CERT ONERA), and Brian Randell, professor at the Department of Computing Science of the University of Newcastle.

I visited Ankara, Bucharest and Kiev to give the course based on the results of my recent research that I had prepared recently and to watch for potential UNU/IIST fellows. My host in these cities were Kemal Inan, professor at the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering of the Middle East Technical University, Eugen Borcoci and Gheorghe Stefanescu, professors at the Telecommunications Department of the University Politehnica Bucharest and the Department of Computer Science of the University of Bucharest, and Nikolaj Nikitchenko, professor at the Department of Programming Theory of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev.

The visits to Amsterdam, Bremen, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Toulouse did not bring me new cultural experiences. Insofar people and culture in Germany, England, and France differ from people and culture in the Netherlands, the differences are relatively small and already known to me for a long time. This makes it difficult to observe them. The visits to Ankara, Bucharest and Kiev, however, brought me new experiences.

On the Parisian airport Orly, waiting for the delayed flight to Ankara, I got talking with a couple that was modern dressed and progressively thinking. It might have been a Californian couple. I was quite surprised to find that it was a Turkish couple. Back in my native country, most Turkish people that I bump into attract attention because they are dressed in a deviant way and have rather conservative views — which are said to go with their culture. Later I sat next to the Turkish couple in the plane and we had a pleasant conversation over many issues throughout the flight to Ankara, where we arrived late in the evening. At the airport, I was picked up by two guys who only spoke Turkish and they brought me to a student flat on the campus of the Middle East Technical University near Ankara.

I slept well after a long day of travelling and woke up early next morning by the ringing of the telephone. Kemal Inan called me to invite me for breakfast with his family. I had a pleasant and sumptuous breakfast with Kemal, his wife and his daughter on the balcony of their house on the campus. We talked about academic issues, political issues and commonplace issues. I remember that at some point during the conversation Kemal’s wife said that in general mixed-race children look more attractive than their parents with the exception of children of Black and Asian parents. I had no opinion about this issue because I had never paid attention to it before. I have forgotten how we arrived at this odd issue, but I found it intriguing. I found that, although I am not for political correctness, I even wondered whether we could discuss this racial issue.

There was a very relaxed atmosphere in Kemal’s group, and I could talk extensively with all member of the group. In this way, I found something exceptional about Kemal: two members of his group, Vladimir Levin and Eleonora Bounimova, formed a Jewish couple from Russia and Kemal had assisted them to escape from Russia during the Cold War. The campus of the Middle East Technical University was a modern campus and, like the couple that I had met on the way to Ankara, most academics and students were modern dressed. However, there were, for some time, a few female students with headscarfs on the campus — although it was officially forbidden. All members of the academic staff that kept me company on walks on the campus without exception decried it when female students with headscarfs passed. A few considered it part of an inescapable trend that would ultimately restrict the academic freedom at Turkish universities.

I identified only one potential UNU/IIST fellow at the Middle East Technical University. It does not mean that I did not meet more bright young students. It does mean that I did not meet more bright young students with the competences expected from UNU/IIST fellows. For example, a certain background in computing and a certain fluency in English was expected. The relatively wealthy parents of the only potential UNU/IIST fellow had devised other plans for his future. For that reason, he never became a UNU/IIST fellow. I would be more lucky in Bucharest and Kiev.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


About Kees Middelburg

Retired computer scientist
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