Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beijing quickstop

When I was invited to lead a short course, "Outcomes Research for Medical Devices and Diagnostics" at the ISPOR (International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research) Asia-Pacific meeting, I thought it sounded like fun, so I said yes.  I got my slides in after some conversations with my (Beijing based) co-instructor and then pretty much forgot about it.  In August, I realized I should make travel arrangements, so I booked a flight and hotel pretty much the same way I do for all meetings and then forgot about it again.  A couple of days before I was to leave, I thought I would check out transportation from the airport to the hotel and also what the good things to see might be in Beijing and realized, OH SH%*^!!!  I totally forgot that I would need a visa... Luckily, this was a moment of brain death that it was possible to throw money at, so I did that (using a Los Angeles based visa expediter) and was told I would have the visa via FEDEX First by 8:30 Friday morning.  This was cutting it a little close as my flight was to leave Philadelphia at 10:15, but it was to Dulles before going on to Beijing so I thought it would be OK (no checked luggage). As it turned out, FEDEX arrived at 7:40 (go FEDEX) and I headed to the airport with plenty of time. And then I arrived at the airport and discovered my flight to DC was cancelled (fog at Dulles or something).  I was rebooked on the afternoon flight, but this did me no good as the next flight to Beijing would get me in 2 hours after my short course ended.  Luckily the guy that happened to be at the United counter was a manager and once he understood the issue, worked hard to get me onto a PHL to ORD (Chicago O'Hare) flight and then on to Beijing, which worked perfectly.  There was even an empty middle seat on the flight to Beijing.  The guy in the window was Grand Rapids, a Ferris state engineering grad who lives in China, works for a Canadian company and works all over the place (currently in Papua New Guinea).  I was able to get a ton of work done on the plane, both reviewing information for my upcoming PCORI meeting and reading a bunch of papers. Thing that surprised me #1  - they fed us on the airplane.  Not once, but 3 times and the food while definitely airplane food, wasn't all that bad.  Lasagna first, a little sandwich roll second and an egg dish last.  Getting out of the airport was very easy and I decided on a taxi to the hotel, although the train and subway seemed feasible, it involved some transfers and I wanted to get the lay of the land first.  Thing that surprised me #2 - the majority of people had no to little English.  Yes, I understand that it is China, but it surprised me that at the airport information station, at the hotel check in, the taxi drivers, later the security guards and ticket sellers at the Olympic Park, Tianamen Square, the Great Wall, etc. spoke no or very little English at all. Everyone was friendly and through gesturing and pantomime, it was possible to figure out what I needed. Those who did speak English were interested in having conversations so that was fun.  I got to the hotel, where there were many rules in the elevator
and took a nap (arrived around 4 pm Beijing time and napped until 8) and then went to the welcome reception.  I chatted there with Adrian Towse (current ISPOR president from UK) and Jalpa Doshi (from UPenn) and enjoyed the entertainment which was brief performances by the China Beijing Opera.  

I then went back to sleep and got up early, did some core work in the hotel room and then got ready for the short course.  The course seemed to go very well.  People were fairly engaged and asked questions and at the end, we were able to have a good group discussion.  My co-instructor, Libo Tao is a health economics PhD who works with Becton Dickinson in Beijing.  He was able to provide some very interesting insights on the Chinese health market and market access, but also on the view toward urbanization, economic growth and public health in China. Thing that surprised me #3 - there was only coffee and premade Lipton tea at the meeting, no other kinds of tea, no decaff coffee and no food on short course day.  Food otherwise was not very good, nor plentiful and at the receptions, there was only canned soda, bottled water, orange juice, bad red wine and not very good beer (in small tumblers). During the lunch break, I went over to Olympic Park and checked out the stadium and some of the exhibits. 
I then attended the first Plenary session at ISPOR.  After that, I headed downtown to the Forbidden Palace, which was interesting, but not really my kind of place.  
I found Tianamen Square much more interesting.  I was not surprised that there was no mention whatsoever of the 1989 events, although apparently, in Beijing leading up to the 25th anniversary, there were peaceful protests.  I was particularly impressed by the trees and park like setting of Tianamen Square. 

I walked around outside a bit before heading back to ISPOR for the evening podiums, posters and reception and then early to bed. Thing that surprised me #4 - the car distribution is much more American than European.  Cars are mostly midsized with plenty of minivans and SUVs (compact and mid size for the most part).  The taxis are all Hyundai's which wasn't so surprising, but the number of Volkswagons was. There were plenty of Nissans and Hondas, but also very plentiful Audis, Mercedes, Fords and Buicks.  There were fewer BMWs than other German cars.  I saw no cars by Great Wall or Geely.  I did see a couple by FAW and one Merek Mobil (Indonesia).  I also saw a few Bentleys (I think they build for the Chinese market specifically).  Thing that surprised me #5 - very few dogs.  I saw only 3 or 4 stray dogs and less than 10 on leashes with people in all of my walking about. This may have been due to a recent rabies incident. The nearly 5,000 dogs that were killed were in Baoshan though, not Beijing. 

Monday morning, I got up early (earlier than planned as my wake-up call came at 4 am, not the requested 6 am). So I did a couple hours of work, then headed off to the Great Wall.  I went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, slightly less popular than the Badaling section, but apparently greener and less crowded.  There were definitely people, but it wasn't too crowded.  After a breakfast of yummy dumplings in the park, I walked up to watch tower 6 and then walked from Tower 6 to Tower 23.  I believe it is about 3 miles round trip, but almost all either up or down.  It was very awe inspiring and a perfect morning, cool and sunny.  

I got back to town for the education symposium and workshops at ISPOR then took the subway back to the airport.  The subway was not surprising.  Apparently, subways are much the same everywhere and I had no trouble getting around, despite 2 transfers from the Olympic Park station to the airport. 
The flight from Beijing to Dulles was long, but uneventful.  A chance to do some more work and watch a couple of movies.  I decided to just stay awake as I would get home at night and then just sleep to get back on time zone track.  Upon arriving in DC, clearing customs and immigration was all easy, but my flight was delayed two hours.  The downside - I was going to end up awake for a long time.  The upside - I got to watch most of both games of the Monday Night Football doubleheader.  The Detroit win was most excellent and the San Diego-Arizona game was an excellent match-up.  I also tried a new cider, the Virgina made Bold Rock Apple Cider.  I got home around 1:45 and went straight to bed.  I managed to get up at 6:30 in time to head to work to teach my 8:30 class and actually was functional through the day.  I slept for 11 hours last night and now feel ready to be back on track and on ESTime.  

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