The fourth annual China Science Fiction Conference was held from November 2-3 in Beijing, and I was lucky enough to be among the people that the organizers, China Association for Science and Technology, invited to attend.The con was held at the Beijing Expo, right next to the Riverside hotel where I was staying.
It is surreal to me that it has already been more than a month since this trip and I am only now finding time to sit down and write about it. Having won the Shimmer program, an emerging Chinese fan fund trip, I have been planning to visit China and Chinese SF fandom for a while now, and it has been slow progress. This trip was separate from that, but no less of a whirlwind adventure for it. (Thank you, Storycom and Regina, you are awesome!)
It was touch and go for a while there, because I could not dedicate a lot of days to the trip. Work was piling up and October already had a weekend trip and a week-long trip I needed to do. My child’s birthday is at the beginning of November and I had never missed it nor did I intend to. And then there was also this pressure of whether one really should fly halfway round the world just to stay some place for 4 days only. (I have since discovered there are others who do this and in much colder weather, too, so not that crazy, yaaay!)
Having done the trip – yes, one definitely should! I had a marvelous time in Beijing and I am so glad I did not miss any of it, however short, just because I knew it would take me almost as long to get there as I would be staying there. Totally worth it!
I left on Wednesday morning and arrived on Thursday morning, local time. After finding my hotel and my friend Regina, I fell asleep for 4 hours. Jetlag be damned! Regina had to teach a class in the afternoon so I took a walk around the Beijing neighborhood we were staying at. I have no idea whether it felt so surreal because it was different and I was too tired to notice and process, (and it did not seem so very different than the streets of Europe at all), or because I do jetlag strangely or because it has been a while since I was any place where I did not know the language at all. Could not access google to help me navigate my way around the neighborhood nor even a neighborhood conversation.
I walked around, watched the people and enjoyed myself immensely. Tried not to die every time I crossed the street: the cars do not automatically stop, they just kind of edge toward you and you end up walking across more diagonally than straight. There were no cafes in the street and this was the only major difference: there was nowhere to sit outside in the sun and in the street to watch the traffic, as hectic as it was with so many scooters, bikes and pedestrians, go by. I loved the can-do attitude of making two-lane streets into three-lane ones, based on how many cars were on them at the time.
In the evening, Regina took me for a Beijing meal at a local shop, Lu Zhu Huo Shao, which was delicious, as was the Guan Chang. Looking for some tea was an adventure in itself as we navigated the neighbourhood and had to investigate where the tea shop – in a private, guarded building complex with zero signage! – was. I love the tea I bought. We spent the evening celebrating a birthday at a bar and playing interesting games.
The next day, I held a talk at the Storycom’s Venture Capitalist Film Workshop on how to find funding in Europe for Chinese film projects via scripting workshops. I was rather nervous, but Regina was such a great interpreter and my hosts and my audience were are awesome that it was a wonderful experience. The day ended with a dinner at the Riverside hotel.
The tagline of the convention was “Science Fiction for Creation, Fantastic Imagination for Future” and I totally loved it, the big screen, the video materials, the upbeat music, the opening which was held on Sunday morning. It had it all: the local delegates, the state delegates, the distinguished guests, the speeches… Yeah, it was a bit like my childhood. ROFL.
The con was one where there were foreign guests for the first time, like Andrei Geim, Kevin J. Anderson, Leonard Mondrino, Mary Robinette Kowal. There were many tracks of programming – divided into sections, like SF+culture, SF+technology SF+science, SF+games, SF+ games, SF+Youth. And I found myself experiencing the same thing I do at Eurosons, Worldcons and other cons – wishing for that device Hermione used to catch all her classes.
Chinacon probably seemed a lot different than a usual con to all the UK and US people, since their SF conventions are primarily fan-run events, done privately, as in people will use their own time to come up with and propose events, talks, panels, topics, workshops, etc and then the organizing committee will choose what to go with. Croatia does it the same, but since we do fund parts of the con with public money as well, there are dignitaries, and city officials and ministry people and protocol, at our cons as well.
So it was at Chinacon as well, only a bit more so. But past all that, I loved the sense of purpose it gave to this Chinese convention. It felt akin to a startup forum, where people gathered to pitch ideas and discuss dreams and impossible goals in the certainty that at least some of the people participating will come up with something strange and innovative and useful, be it a movie, an educational module for kids, a hard SF novel or a way to reach and live on Venus tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what kind of science fiction emerges from China in the future, as I am loving what I have read and seen so far and after this con, am sure there is so much space for more.