In the captain’s chair

The temperature in Beijing recently has been hot, hot, hot. Seriously, it has been in the mid-to-high 30s, although I think cooler weather (slightly cooler at least) is on its way. My second-year students have been teaching classes themselves recently, and my first-year students are about to start their final exams (I know it might seem a little early, but actually the exams will take a few weeks).

The exams this semester are the same format as last semester but instead of three different options, the students only have one option: they need to talk about a problem they face or are concerned about and have to 1) identify the problem; 2) state why it is a problem; and 3) come up with solutions to the problem. There are a range of topics that they will be presenting on, and over the next few weeks, it will be very interesting to hear them. Similarly, the second-year classes have been more engaging that I perhaps originally thought they would be. I have asked the students to get into groups and teach a mini lesson about aspects of culture. Some of the topics they have chosen to talk about have not been what I would have done, were I put in that situation, but that is not the point. What they have done is pretty impressive.

I told them I did not want them simply to do a presentation, but I wanted them to include an activity. Usually, their activities have involved guessing the answer to something, but they have varied and been design based as well (for example, one group this week talked about weird food around the world, and mentioned weird or themed restaurants, so they set students the task of designing their own themed restaurant). This engages the student and makes it more interesting and active for them. It also means I am talking less, and gets students to actually think about issues they discuss.

I have recently finished watching the second season of Star Trek: Discovery. The first season was quite good, but the second was even better, with the Enterprise (albeit before Captain Kirk) featuring. It is nice to watch some Trek again, and all the themes it raises about life and everything, given the current states of things with climate change and Brexit etc. I mention Trek because … well I guess because I am doing some sorting through things, deciding on what to take with me, what to send home, and what to leave. In my wardrobe, amongst my trousers and shirts, I have the uniform from Star Trek Beyond, which Spock wore and which I wore for the Halloween party at RDFZ in 2016 (obviously, it is not the literal uniform he wore, but it is supposed to be his). During the party, I remember many students asking me why I was not wearing the captain’s uniform which, lets face it, would have been cool. Who doesn’t want to be captain of a star ship, or indeed the most famous one of all, the Enterprise?! I said – truthfully – I could not find one. I did not wear the Spock ears, but if anyone asked, I would say I was another science officer or even Dr McCoy (although I think his badge was a little different… nobody quibbled about this though). I had a friend who ordered it from Taobao (a website a little like ebay), but it was a last-minute purchase and so was not sure if it would arrive in time for the party. If not, I would have to go like a mummy again as I did in my first year. It did arrive and I took great pleasure in wearing it.

Me in my Star Trek uniform (from 2016, just before the Halloween Party), doing the Vulcan salute.

The Christmas before that, in 2015, was my first in China. In fact, on Christmas Eve – a day I had no (or few) classes on – I took the subway across the city to visit ‘The Star Trek Experience’, an exhibition which was travelling around the world.

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This was the outside. It was sort of like a big tent, but with very few people in it. 

My manager had happened to mention it in passing that it was in Beijing and I was the only Trek fan amongst my colleagues, so I went and visited it. It was a wonderful early Christmas gift for me. It cost 100 yuan, I think (maybe about £10), but was well worth it. Well worth it. There were, including myself, three people in it. I was surprised at how few people were in it, and I struck up a conversation with another random foreigner who was there.

The exhibition had a mock up of the bridge from the Enterprise-D, and you could pretend you were on comms or at the helm or even – and this was the best bit – you could sit in the captain’s chair, on the bridge of the Enterprise.  Myself and the random foreigner guy ended up taking photos of each other sitting in the captain’s chair.

They also had a transporter room , and other props from the various films and television series, as well as a range of uniforms (the best, I think, are those in later Deep Space Nine and in the films First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis).

I remember briefly reading about the tour of it before I was actually aware of what it was or that it was in Beijing. It is still one of my fondest memories here, particularly because later that day, in the evening, we had the Christmas pantomime and concert in the school, and I had to be involved. It was not a particularly fantastic experience, so the ‘Star Trek Experience’ made up for it. With so few people around as well, you could take your time and absorb the atmosphere. There was a gift shop at the end and I bought a t-shirt of the Enterprise, with the words ‘To boldly go where no one has gone before’ on it.

Just seeing the captain’s chair, and the bridge of the Enterprise-D, was pretty awesome, let alone actually sitting in the chair, and imagining you were in control of the ship. Amazing!

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