Sunday, September 22, 2013

My second trip to Riyadh - II

The problem of the car receded into the background as I prepared to go for the Congress. I was ready by half past eight; the way to go was to go by a cab as neither Mufaddal, my cousin, in whose house I was staying, nor I, had a car. I reached the congress venue by about 9:15 a.m. It was within the precincts of the Hotel Intercontinental, and was called the King Faisal Conference Hall. It turned out to be not just one hall, but a complete convention center with a large central auditorium and many other satellite rooms, one of which had a ROUND shape, as if the participants would be deliberating together and not listening to one speaker. Each seat had plush chairs, and the table before us had a jug full of water, two beautiful inverted glasses, a box of tissues, and an ultra-modern communication device from Sony which had a microphone, adjustable volumes, ear-phones, etc. 

The walls served as screens to project the slides; each hall had two or three screens, making it possible for all attending persons to access the slides from wherever they sat. Outside each hall sat a few volunteers who signed you in when you entered and signed you out at the end of the day. This was not only a security measure, but also served to announce winners of two daily lotteries where the random winners won either a mobile phone (in the morning) or an i-Pad (in the evening).

Tea, coffee and snacks were available at 3-4 sites throughout the venue; the snacks were multi-choice, including cakes, crumpets, mini-pizzas, cookies, etc. Lunch was served in a separate ball-room area, and the cuisine was a sort of sampling from different countries that make up Asia and the Oceanic region: there were items from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, Japan, Australia, the West, etc. The queues were orderly, and the service by the mostly Indian staff was excellent. They moved unintrusively among the guests, taking side orders for soft drinks, delivering specially requested items like pieces of cutlery or that additional plate and generally being very friendly with the guests. The desserts were world-class, as were the salads at the start of the buffet. The lunch was as good on the next day as on the first one. 

The delegates were a mix from many nations, but the Japanese doctors predominated; they are, in fact, founders of the Asia-Oceanic Group of Child Neurologists; they were everywhere, and the speeches and presentations made by them were great. They were very courteous too, as is their custom. When acknowledging compliments, I saw them bend at the waist many times before letting their admirer go. The most surprising thing for me, though, were the highly educated, English speaking Saudi neurologists. This was an eye-opening experience for me, as they were eloquent, well-read, highly educated and, apart from their national dress, no different from doctors anywhere in the world. They came from various hospitals in the Kingdom - from Dammam, Riyadh, Jeddah and elsewhere. Truly, I was fortunate to meet some of these worthies. A few of them are involved in cutting research in the fields of neurology, genomics, biochemistry and clinical genetics. 

The level of the speeches made was as good as that promised by the conference organisers. I learned a lot, especially from topics related to acute neurological emergencies, epilepsies, neuro-metabolic errors and others. 

The venue itself was spread over a large service area. There were separate areas for registration, for services, for sight-seeing and cultural events, and for announcements for upcoming events in the world of Child Neurology. The next two venues (Taiwan and Japan) were announced, and the host countries' members lost no chance to spread pamphlets relating to their future Congress. They even visited us at our dining tables! There was an area for poster presentations - the place where I met with my long-time internet pediatric neurology colleague Dr. Tajul Ari from Malaysia - and a separate area for the pharma companies to display their products and interact with the colleagues.

All in all, a very good conference. But, it did not end when the lectures ended. We would be taken to a unique visit to a place that is normally off-limits to people. But more of this in my next post.

Thanks for reading.

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