The woman who was on the panel with me hitched a ride, and so at least we had great conversation driving to the hinterlands of Texas on Friday. Lots and lots of fields and green grass and cows. On the good side I should be grateful there were also trees.
We arrived in Huntsville, a little town of 37,000 people, although you couldn't tell it from where we were. The university was bigger than we thought it would be, but we kept asking each other where in the heck all the students were. Guess we kind of get used to seeing a campus just covered in students.
The talks that afternoon were at odd times, and we'd arrived about an hour before they were due to finish, so we grabbed lunch. Apparently my restaurant radar is great - I picked a lovely little cafe that thought salad was much more than iceberg lettuce, and then Saturday on the drive home I spotted a cute little italian restaurant that not only had california wines, but edible food for all three of us. Guess all that dining out training is finally paying off.
I learned from my roommate (later on that evening) that all University hotels are the same - they don't look bad on the outside, and even in the hallways you see nice chairs and pretty furniture, but once you get inside the rooms it's a bit of a disaster. Mostly clean (but perhaps they had university students cleaning the thing? because behind every cabinet there was an inch of dust), and it wasn't like there was mold in the bathroom or anything, but (and I can't be 100% sure of this, but I wonder) the mattresses seemed like they might have come with the original hotel in the 50s, and the rest of the furniture and lamps for sure did. I worried at one point that the toilet was leaking. Luckily we only had to deal with it for a night, and it was like $30 for each of us.
It wasn't really much of an opportunity to meet people for me - I was nervous enough about my talk the next day that I didn't really want to expend the energy talking to strangers -- especially strangers in suits. There was a sharp demarcation between graduate students in their mostly relaxed garb and those who obviously were part of the professor class.
There was an anti climactic afternoon session on Friday - two of the profs who gave their papers were interesting (though totally outside my range since they were talking about Chinese and Japanese diaspora and immigration patterns), and the third was this abysmal quasi historical thing where the woman sounded more like a Discovery channel special than an academic. After we got together for a dinner sponsored by the conference that was, surprise surprise, BBQ. UGH. I had my fill when Mom came to visit, and really, once every six months or so is enough for me.
The best thing to come out of dinner was that one of my fellow UT people asked if we wanted her to ask questions at our talk - she'd be our plant in the audience, so to speak. And of course I did!
As probably a sign of both my age and my level of nervousness, my roomie and I decided we would forgo attempting to discover what the nightlife of Huntsville was like and instead we went up to the room to practice our presentations and go to sleep.
The day of the talk finally dawned. After some confusion about breakfast we headed over to the Asian Art panel, watched one grad student with a mildly interesting project on Korean Celadon and one of the professors from the UT Art History department who totally blew her presentation both for time, and presentation. She actually stared at the floor. And I felt awful for her because even when she tried to come out in front of the podium, she still stared at the floor.
We had a weird, but decent lunch, at a restaurant a couple of blocks away from campus at a Chinese food place called Korea House (I think), and then ran for coffee (to the only starbucks open on a saturday in the town *shudder*) and back in time to see our friends finish up their panel and to get nervous about ours.
And then, my co-panelist and I... nailed it. She a little better than I (but she is a PhD student and has a little more experience), and I managed to make my warnings serious enough, got the media working (even though their computers didn't have quicktime on them (crazyness!) and the projector wouldn't allow me to keep open my media file and my powerpoint file at the same time and switch back and forth. There were three non-UT people in our session, and the rest were friends or faculty that I know and work with and so that helped the fear factor. Made it completely casual too, though, which was good and bad. Wonderfully there were actual questions from the audience (besides my plants) and they were pretty even for both of us.
then we got back into my car and started the three hour drive home. UGH.
We were very responsible pet people and took the stray kittens that decided our house was great to the animal shelter today - this way they at least have a chance at a good home, since we can't adopt any more pets and they deserved it - but it was one of the hardest things I've had to do in a long time.
My last goals today? work on:
x gilesxander 's giles/xander fest postings
x roshomon translation
x abstract for the Thesis