Old folk at lunch

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A birthday and a graduation



Joe recently had a birthday and not long after graduated from the University of Queensland with First Class Honours in Mathematics. I could not be more pleased. Having a son who is tall, good-looking, nice natured and brilliant is hard to beat! And his only artificial euphoriant is computer games. Though I believe he does have a weakness for iced coffee also.

At his request, his birthday dinner was low key, with just myself, Jenny, Nanna, Anne, Joe himself and his old friend from school -- Andy -- invited. Jenny managed to seat us all in her living room and cooked us egg-rolled pork with rice and Kim Chee -- a dish of Korean origin which is a great favourite in the family. Samantha had an open-book exam to do that night so could not come. Andy is a most personable young man. He is Han Chinese and was dux of the school when Joe was there. I hear that he is quite tough, too, which rather surprised me. I didn't associate that with charm and politeness. After dinner more family members were invited over for the cutting of the cake and coffee afterwards: Suzy, Paul and Von with respective partners.

The graduation ceremony was for the Science Faculty only and about half the graduands would have been of Han origin. The Arts faculty graduation would be where you would see a majority of Anglo-Celts. When Joe stepped forward to be handed his degree, it was something of a notable break. After a parade of small Chinese, there was this 6' tall blond getting a degree! There were apparently quite a few bright sparks in the Maths Dept., as you might expect. One of Joe's fellow students there was awarded student of the year for the entire faculty! So Joe has been keeping august company. He has already started work on his Ph.D. programme.

We had a VERY small celebratory dinner for him on the night of his graduation: Joe, Sam, Jenny, Anne and myself. There was a special reason for keeping that dinner small. I opened a 16-year-old bottle of Grange to have with dinner -- at a cost of $600 for one 26 oz. bottle. I suppose that there might have been better uses for $600 but how often does one have a son graduate with First Class Honours in Mathematics? Jenny made us some excellent steak with Bearnaise sauce to go with the wine. Grange goes best with French cuisine.

Joe tells me that academic publications in mathematics are dominated by the Han, regardless of which country they may be writing from. The most recent recipients of the Fields medal included Terry Tao, an Australian-born Chinese, partly for work in PDEs, which is Joe's interest. And journals actually published in China are important sources of advancement in mathematical thinking too, apparently. With Chinese friends, a Chinese supervisor and a half-Chinese girlfriend, however, Joe is already in the right company for that. But he is seriously thinking of learning Mandarin as a long-term project. In the meantime, his very pleasant Chinese supervisor will be there to alert him to any developments in Chinese journals that he may need to know about.

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