After six years in Leipzig, the young Russian finally got the chance to form his own research group in Shanghai in 2006. “China is developing very rapidly, and that was something that attracted me,” says the scientist. He was, however, not prepared for Shanghai, the largest city in China, which has gone into fast-forward mode. Shiny new high-rise buildings are springing up everywhere, intertwining asphalt roads and colorfully lit bridges are being built. And after almost four years, Khaitovich is still sometimes taken aback by the breakneck speed of the city with a population of 19 million people. For example, when five new subway lines are opened within the short span of just a few months. Or when a new airport terminal that did not exist a few months earlier suddenly appears.
“There aren’t many cities that are as big and have changed at such an unbelievable rate,” says Khaitovich. But the young researcher enjoys life in the modern metropolis. He wanders with friends through the lively areas of the city, visits new cafes and art galleries. And from Shanghai he can also explore the rest of the country with its deserts and mountains, and visit historic sites, like old Buddhist monasteries. On his travels off the beaten track, Philipp Khaitovich has also stayed in simple farmhouses.
The researcher has been learning Chinese for two years, but his language skills are still “quite poor” in his opinion. He talks to his Chinese friends who he has gotten to know in Shanghai in a mishmash of Mandarin and English. Together they indulge in the truly greatest Chinese passion – food. They visit restaurants where very few foreigners stray, sample delicacies from all over the country, including, for example, “stinking tofu” – a fermented soya dish that gives off a pungent smell. Khaitovich goes into raptures about a “whole universe of dishes” tucked away in the streets and alleyways of the big city.
However, Shanghai is virtually the ideal site not only for culinary exploration, but also for his research project. The dramatically changing metropolis is a little like modern biology, Philipp Khaitovich finds. Because in his discipline, too, developments have experienced a meteoric rise during the past few years and technological progress has constantly opened up whole new avenues. Therefore, it is only logical that Khaitovich has set up his research group here.