My Experience at this year’s blogger conference – Yezi (叶子)

 Images Team Ye Yezi is a long-time blogger living in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. She studied journalism and communication and wrote her graduate thesis on blogging and its impact on media. She is the main local organizer for the second Chinese Blogger Conference held Oct 28 and 29 in Hangzhou. The following blog post, written on November 7, is about her experiences during this event (translated by CDT).

Our Life

Yesterday when I was buying pomelos in a neighborhood store, the store owner chatted with me about recent odd news in Hangzhou. A policeman beat a bus driver; laid-off workers had a strike and demanded the death penalty for a high government official; and a series of corruption cases. At the end of the conversation, he concluded that the only people suffering in this society are the small people like him. I sighed and said, things haven’t changed much for us young people. We have no freedom to do even a small thing. The owner asked, what did you want to do? I said, a few days ago we tried to organize an international academic conference, and we encountered a lot of difficulties. He laughed hard. “You wanted to hold an international meeting? I would be surprised if you were allowed to do this,” he said.

When my friends and I were enjoying the pomelos and the snacks I bought, no one seemed to be in the mood to talk about the annual conference. We all pretended that it never happened. Suddenly, a weird idea came up to my mind. I asked ANT, if I write in my blog that I will go to the Wulin Square and will sit in there on Nov. 11, will the Net police see the post and stop me beforehand? ANT said, you bet. I said, is it so magic? It’s just fake news from a blog with a small group of readers. To tell you the truth, I just want to get to know some of those Net polices in person. Maybe this way I can meet some handsome boys. We all laughed, and kept watching the movie Initial D. We did not want to do anything. We are all obedient citizens, we absolutely are, really.

This is our life in Hangzhou. We are used to self-entertaining and self-amusement. Joking about everything. We are used to things not turning out the way we want

The Story of the Conference Venue

Eventually, we did hold our annual meeting successfully. From the “mild days” of May, to the “drizzly days” of June, to the “intense days” of September, and to the “tempest” of the day before the meeting, one word: thrilling.

As the organizer in Hangzhou for this conference, I know the style of the Hangzhou volunteers well. Most of us don’t like to participate in online forums. We will read the preliminary discussions but not reply, unless the discussion is related to ourselves. Neither do we like to talk on Skype, except for playing the “Killing” game. Hangzhou volunteers understand that joining in most of the fruitless discussions is purely a waste of time especially when we are organizing an event of public interest. As organizers, the first priority is to settle the venue for the conference. Who would have imagined that this seemingly very simple matter would become a roller coaster ride.

May. The organizing committee, using the Hangzou Mashup, assigned the Hangzhou volunteers to take on the honorable task – hosting the second Chinese Blogger Conference.

June. Hu Hai (Ëɰʵ∑) from 5D Multi Media, who teaches at China Academy of Art (‰∏≠ÂõΩÁæéÊúØÂ≠¶Èô¢), submitted a venue application to the school’s Nanshan Road campus. We were all glad with this choice, since the Nanshan Road campus is sitting at a perfect location with the very unique flavor of an art college. We all agreed this location would be a perfect addition to our annual conference. One week later, our application was refused. From October to November, the Academy of Art would hold its 2006 Italian Art Exhibition. Although the school didn’t know the exact time of the exhibition, it wouldn’t consider to lease its conference room in the second half of the year. There goes our plan A.

July. Introduced by ORANGE from Yupoo.com, we got in touch with a few friends from the translation team of the Association of Hangzhou Volunteers. They recommended Yongqian Theater in the Yuquan campus of Zhejiang University. We could rent the theater for a low rental cost through the reference of the Association of Graduate Students at Zhejiang University. In August, carrying our cameras, we examined the spot. The school was on summer holiday, so we got the security guards to help us. After taking a few pictures, we felt this place is not good for our meeting. It’s too big, and it’s too old. There goes our plan B.

During this period, we were at the same time also looking for commercial locations such as hotels and business clubs. They charged us much more than schools. And it’s also not easy to find a conference room in a hotel that can accommodate more than 400 people. Due to the budget limit, we decided that our first choice should be schools. At the moment, ISAAC pointed out that given the uncertainties of schools, they are not necessarily good choices. Our later experiences proved that he was right, at least for our experiences in Hangzhou.

September. JIANJIAN from ourpod.cn came up with a cheap place with all meeting facilities — the International Conference Center at the Zijingang campus of Zhejiang University. This campus is the newest Zhejiang University campus. Compared with all the other places we had seen, the newly constructed International Conference Center was more standard. The price was also reasonable. However, if we wanted to use the broadband Internet, have drinking water, or set up more air conditioners, the school would charge extra. The university was no dummy. They are actually very shrewd. Meanwhile, JIANJIAN also introduced us to the hotel nearest to the school: the North Station branch of Star of SINEW Hotel. JIANJIAN is from SINEW Group. This will make hotel subscription more flexible and easy.

Soon, representatives from the Shanghai organizing committee came to inspect the venue. They were all pretty satisfied. The university was also very supportive, and our meeting time didn’t conflict with the school’s. We decided to pay the deposit as soon as possible. Our friends from Lookchina also started to test their video broadcasting equipment in the conference room. Everything was running very smoothly.

Hit by the State Council

October. Shortly after the National Day holiday, JIANJIAN and I went to the International Conference Center with the deposit. Our meeting would be held in just over a week, and we decided to do two complete trial runs. Everything seemed to be on track, but suddenly, a teacher told us blankly that our meeting, which would be held on October 28 and 29, would have to be canceled. It turned out that the State Council will have a two-day meeting at the school, and the International Conference Center and the Waterfront Conference Room will not be open to the public.

“No way!!! Why did it happen now, without a single hint?” I said.

“Well, just take it as a natural disaster,” the teacher said. “There will be more than 40 high officials this time, higher rank than provincial governors. They were initially to have a meeting in Beijing University. Maybe they got bored with Beijing, and suddenly decided to have a change of sceneÔºåso they are coming to Hangzhou. I also just got the news. Sorry I can’t help. We are now refurbishing the Waterfront Conference Room for the meeting. Maybe you can put off your meeting.”

So what can we do? The meeting room where we spent so much time fizzled, only because of this. I imagined that since they have only 40 people, one small meeting room should be enough. Why they want two whole buildings? My idea was killed by the teacher immediately. “Do you think the State Council is a joke?” The teacher said. “No external people will be allowed to step into the university, not to mention to attend your meeting.” There goes our Plan C.

I called YUANZI. She clearly said that the conference can not be postponed. A lot of people had already bought the flight tickets. So, we had to look for venues, again.

We started to make phone calls madly. We called all the places that could be our possible venues. We then realized that finding a good venue in Hangzhou, a city with endless meetings and exhibitions, is very tough. But we couldn’t just stop. We knew that it’s not easy for all of us to get together. We must find a new place this afternoon, and then let all our friends know.

Full, full, full All conference rooms downtown were booked. Did we have to give up downtown and search the suburban districts such as Xiasha or Bingjiang? Transportation would be terrible there.

Right when we were at the end of our rope, the teacher who was standing next to us showed his mercy. Maybe the two packs of Chun Hwa Cigarettes we gave him worked. He said, let me call Hangzhou University to see if their biggest meeting room is still available. That room can accommodate 500 people.

JIANJIAN and I looked at each other. He asked me, innocently, “Yezi, is it because of your bad luck, or my bad luck? We messed up everything we did recently. What’s wrong?” I said, “It’s my bad luck. Whatever I do, I mess it up. The magazine of 50 was banned, and now the meeting room is in a mess. I brought the bad luck to the rest of us.”

It’s the year of my zodiac animal sign, but the bad luck has followed me closely. I seriously considered to hang up my axe after this meeting and stay at home expecting a baby. I couldn’t bear more shocks this year.

The teacher hung up the phone, and joyfully came up to us and said, all done. Hangzhou University said they can move their two meetings to other places and leave the meeting room to us. You have to meet them immediately and cut the deal.

That’s great! My luck was not that bad after all. Great thanks to the teacher. We immediately took a taxi to Hangzhou University.

We arrived at the school before the teachers took off. The campus is very old. The meeting room, which used to be the best in Hangzhou University, was very shabby. But it’s cheaper than other ones, and the transportation is easy. That’s it. Since we couldn’t find anyplace better. I realized that a human being’s expectations could be slowly lowered as time runs out and the blows get stronger. It seemed like we were back 10 years ago, preparing for the first party representative meeting. Red curtains and drapes, tables carved with scribbles. This was the impression we got from the meeting room at Hangzhou University, which is actually an old name of the Xixi Campus of Zhejiang University. After merging with Zhejiang University, the three other schools, including Hangzhou University, were renamed Zhejiang University.

“Fill out the application form and pay the deposit next week. We will keep the place for you,” said teacher Jin, who was in a hurry to go back home.

“Please do keep it for us.” I was worried. “We don’t want to see the second Zijingang incident.”

“This I cannot guarantee. What if the State Council wants to have their meeting here?” The teacher said. “But I think it’s unlikely.” I also thought that’s impossible. Why would the State Council want to have their meeting in this shabby place? We wouldn’t even choose this place if we were not at the end of our rope.

Next Monday, JIANJIAN submitted the application form, as well as the 1,000 yuan deposit. The money was paid, the dust should have settled. Then came numerous tasks to do. We had to lay out the Internet cables in the room, had to borrow six AP (what’s this?), and there were not even enough sockets. The live webcast had to be re-tested. The projectors there didn’t work, so we had to prepare our own. We also needed to buy refreshments, arrange the layout of the room, and prepare meals. Additionally, we needed to arrange tours around Hangzhou, and needed to negotiate prices with tea houses. We had to talk to Shanghai for details such as the list of participants. All our work seemed to be starting from scratch again.

Then came another big headache, lodging. Apparently there were not enough hotel rooms next to Hangzhou University. We had cancelled the booking at Star of SINEW, and now we had to rebook the hotel again. All those unforeseen troubles made us feel more and more apologetic to our friends. I sincerely hope our friends will forgive us.

Blocked, Blocked!

The meeting day was approaching. One afternoon, right when we were in the midst of madness, I got a phone call from a friend working at a big evening newspaper in Hangzhou. She asked me who the organizer of the conference is, and what this meeting is about. I was surprised by how specific her questions were. Finally she told me, “We just got a notice from the Propaganda Department. All media in Hangzhou are not allowed to attend and report about your conference. They said there is a June 4th dissident coming to the conference, who also attended the same conference last year. Yezi, be prepared.”

Dammit!

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

Dammit Dammit Dammit Dammit Dammit .. .. and Dammit!!!

Hung up the phone. My body temperature slumped to below 0 c. First reaction, get on Skype, find the committee, and tell them the tragic news. I wanted to ask them why there is a dissident coming to the meeting. My friends on the Skype group were all shocked, knowing no-one who might be related to June 4th. Who is really behind all of this, and why use this excuse to block our conference?

What’s going to happen next? Maybe anything is possible. But before our meeting got formally banned, we needed to continue our work. We couldn’t just stop then. Two days later, more than 400 people from different areas would be coming to Hangzhou. What if they realize there is no more conference? No way! Are they really just going to end up with a tour trip of the West Lake? This can’t happen. We must continue.

We decided to keep the news among our small group, and do whatever we can to solve the possible problems. However, as the organizers, we had to be prepared for the worst.

In the evening of the same day, I was eating my dinner at Pizza Hut when my friend at another well-known daily newspaper in Hangzhou called me. My friend asked straight out, “Yezi, what’s wrong with you? The magazine of 50 incident just faded. How come there is now a June 4th activist involved? We got the notice, saying there is problem with your conference. You must have been under surveillance.”

Me? A soft-hearted girl with no ambition? Under surveillance? I am about to have a baby. What evil could I do? Why would I want to do something against the government? Is it fair? I just want to enjoy doing something for the public interest, doing something meaningful. And that’s all!

I calmed down. The notice didn’t say to stop the conference. So we kept preparing for it. We Hangzhou volunteers would do whatever we needed to do to keep the conference running.

I turned off my cell phone, noticing the waiters and waitresses were all in exotic makeup for Halloween. Suddenly something popped into my mind: monsters and demons (牛鬼蛇神). Then I kept gobbling my pizza.

Soon, JIANJIAN also encountered pressure from several directions. The school suddenly asked for a full list of the meeting attendees. The boss of SINEW Group also called him asking about the conference, our website, the content of the speeches, and the real name of the organizers and VIPs. He also ordered JIANJIAN to keep his cell phone on 24 hours, and to wait for the next order. In the afternoon of the day before the meeting, we got a notice from a Party representative, who asked us to hand out all information about the guest speakers and the organizers: names, phone numbers, employers, positions, backgrounds, etc. When I asked for those information on Skype, everyone was at a loss. But they were all very cooperative.

Blackout! Blackout!

The next day we would have our meeting. We went to the school for the final test. We also finished all of our work. Many friends arrived at Hangzhou from all over the country. We decided to meet at 1 pm in the conference room to make clear what everybody should do during the next day.

JIANIAN called me shortly after 10am, “Yezi, do we really have bad luck?” What’s the point to talk about luck at this moment! But his words made me nervous. Then he continued that the school had an urgent notice: power will be cut on Oct. 28 and 29 in order to maintain the electrical system. We would certainly not be able to have our meeting.

I immediately called a friend who works at the city Power Bureau to consult with her. She said that these kind of actions usually will give notice at least two weeks ahead of time. It is impossible that the customers only have this short notice. Plus, universities always have backup systems.

I start to get the picture now. I will not give up. Start from scratch again!

Not many bloggers on Skype, because most of them should be on their way to Hangzhou. I saw ANZHU and SHIZHAO. After I told them about the power thing, ANZHU immediately got in touch with his friends, asking for conference rooms that might be available. I also made phone calls madly. Since SHIZHAO had checked in, I asked him to talk to the hotel to see if they have large conference rooms. I remembered that last time when I talked to the hotel, the sales manager said they have a large conference room, and they also provide public transportation service.

The hotel did have a conference room and it could accommodate 200 to 300 people. But we were not sure if we can use the room, which actually had already been booked. We had to ask for help from the hotel. I quickly made a call to Ms. Hu of the sales department, and told her the university black-out story. I hoped she would help us to arrange a meeting place. Ms. Hu was a warm-hearted girl. Within half an hour, she settled the meeting place and the transportation. I thought that this might be what people call the luck for the unlucky.

We immediately went to the conference room. It wasn’t as big as we needed, but it could accommodate us. Besides, the environment was good. At least the hotel provided free projector screens and free air conditioners. The price was also reasonable. That’s it! At 1pm, YUANZI would be responsible for ushering the volunteers from the school to the new conference room, and I would take a few people to move the equipment and the supplies from the school. Once again, we started to arrange the conference room.

ANZHU also talked to another school that would like to rent their conference room to us. Considering the rigid conditions of schools, we decided to have this place as a backup. Also, in order to avoid any possible emergencies, I asked SAM to book Jiuxi Yuyuan, which is a big garden for fishing and BBQ. We booked it for “a company activity.” The price per head was only 10 yuan. Our plan was, if our current meeting place failed, we will have all of our people go to the field for a barbecue. But only a few of us knew this contingency plan. Considering all the emergencies we had encountered, the committee decided not to let other people know about the venue trouble we experienced, and not to release the venue change notice. We will dispatch three buses to pick up our people at Hangzhou University on the morning of Oct. 28 and drive them to the new venue. We won’t leak the backup plan. We had been frightened enough.

Within a few hours in the afternoon, we finished all of the work from zero. We set up the Internet connection, and retested the webcast. The decorations we made for the school meeting room surprisingly fit the new venue. Our friends, who came to the hotel one after another, also came to help us. YUANZI negotiated with the hotel, very professionally, to persuade them to provide us drinking water, and free paper and pens. No one seemed to be influenced by the power incident.

It may not be pretty, but we made it. I particularly feel grateful to those volunteers. I even feel grateful to my luck. If there are more challenges, I believe we can still overcome them. There is only one objective for the conference, that is that the meeting is not going to be stopped. I know a lot of friends complained about the small venue and the lousy microphones. But I still want to say to our volunteers: we did a fantastic job! And thank you for your great efforts! We have accomplished a great mission!

When KESO called me at the airport asking for directions, I told him: I have two pieces of news for you. The bad news is, we have to cancel the venue in Hangzhou University due to the power outage; the good news is, you can come straight to the hotel. And when you wake up in the morning, just go to the third floor to give your keynote speech.

All Done. See You Next Year in Beijing.

Let me finish my reflections here. I worked for the conference on October 28 and 29 and unfortunately missed all the speeches, but I am still happy, because this annual gathering was finally held successfully. Now we are free. We can go to play wildly in a field, enjoy a chat in a bar, and play our computer games. We will have interesting gatherings one after another, will eat tasty pomelos, will joke about ourselves, and will listen to the complaints of the neighborhood store owner.

After this, I am going to take a break. And I am going to have a cute baby, whom I will take to Beijing for our annual conference next year. Brother Fatty in Beijing, carry on! Remember I won’t help you as a volunteer next year. I will stay in the conference room and listen to two full days of speeches. I will chat with other bloggers, meet new friends, and hug old friends. I will go to have fun with everyone in the evening. No more thrills. I look forward to the excitement in Beijing.

—-Yezi wishing you all good food, good drinks, good mood :-)

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