Monthly Archives: May 2014

The frontiers and this week’s pictures

I’ve chosen the first of my two pictures for this week’s PowerPoint slide show introductions, but not yet the second.

This will be the last teaching week for the semester for me. Class will consist entirely of student presentations. If they don’t all fit into the time, then we’ll have to go into overtime next week.  Otherwise, it’s all over but the counting (figuring out the grades).

Viewing Tianjin University from Nankai University
Viewing Tianjin University from Nankai University

This first picture will open tomorrow’s slide show.  It was taken a few days ago on the campus of Nankai University, our neighbor to the south.

The huge green building on the right, built in the shape of a gigantic stool, straddles the line between Nankai University and Tianjin University.  This line is a ramrod-straight street, paved in asphalt but devoid of any vehicular traffic.  In fact the only moving things you ever see on it are birds (occasionally), and in the summer, food vendors.

Anyway, the green building, in the days of its construction, was called “The Tianjin University – Nankai University Joint Research Mansion.”  The intent was to straddle the two universities and pin them together, despite the lonely strip of asphalt that separates them.  The building has changed names several times since those far-off days five years ago.

Nowadays, each of this “stool’s” four legs bears a separate name, and the seal of whichever university bears the weight of it.  And even though it is possible to walk from one side to the other within the building, that path is not particularly obvious.  Of course, one can easily walk underneath it, winding one’s way through various gates and bicycle traps to move from one university to the other.

Well, so much for togetherness.

Still it’s nice to have the two universities so close.  It’s yet another resource that will be lost when Tianjin University moves into the outer space down in the Southeast corner of the province.

The back of building 26
Breaking and Entering at Tianjin University

That super-long brick-like building behind the “joint research mansion” is “Building 26” of Tianjin University, where I hold all my English classes.  I took a closer picture of it from the other end yesterday.

Here lies the asphalt frontier in all its glory, as well as the straddling research mansion further down the road. It was raining yesterday, a fine mist, a soft day, so it’s not pollution that you see.

I reached this spot through one of the ubiquitous holes in the ever-present fences that wall off one public space from another.  And as I stood there, pedestrians, hoping to avoid the ten-to-twenty-minute  walk through the normal open gates, kept passing by, and taking the same path that I had. One of them appears in this picture, squeezing herself through the gap, although in this case, a more athletic specimen could have simply vaulted herself over the top.

The tall flowers that are so typical

Also piercing that fence is a row of tall bushes that springs up from nothing all over campus in the space of three or four weeks every year.  The flowers are pretty and multicolored. I don’t know exactly what they are, so if anybody can identify them, please let me know.

Fence openings like that, providing access through fences to rich resources, probably won’t exist in the new outer-space campus, if only because there’s nothing in the surroundings to access.  Oh, and also a moat will surround the whole territory, further preserving fences and walls from pedestrian damage.

Where there's a fence, there's a way
Where there’s a fence, there’s a way

See, here’s yet another gap which provides students, teachers, and workmen with access to the city streets.  They really are everywhere. And they really do save twenty minutes of walking.  And the nearby city streets really will be missed.

And also, everywhere are flowers, which constitute one of the great pleasures of life here in the spring and summer.

Many of them are annuals, like the upspringing bushes mentioned above. But beds of roses blanket patches of campus here and there . This particular mound of rosy redness can be found just outside the Liu Yuan (留园), one of two campus housing complexes for foreign students.  I can’t really read what’s written on the stone. It’s the old-style writing from 2000 years ago.

The rose patch and ancient stone
The rose patch and ancient stone

The Liu Yuan used to feature a guest house for foreign experts, including small conference rooms for business meetings and other educational gatherings.  In fact, that guest house was where I spent my first summer in Tianjin fifteen years ago.  Now, the foreign students have expanded and overwhelmed it.  I haven’t been inside for many a year.

However, I had stopped by yesterday to take in a celebration put on by the foreign students.  They had all set up booths decorated with pictures of their home countries. Even Sweden was represented!!   And it was pleasant to note the picture of a California flag at the American booth.  Many wore colorful national costumes and proffered national foods, or demonstrated national dances.

Edgar shows us Kenya
Edgar shows us Kenya

This picture shows my friend Edgar, from Kenya, whom I know from church. Those who know Edgar will be happy to learn that, after earning his undergraduate degree here, he was admitted to Tianjin University’s civil engineering master’s program.  This opportunity also furnished him with a free room on campus, so he no longer has to pay for his own lodging.

And he “tested out” of the English requirement, so I’ll never see him in my English classes with his classmates.  It’s too bad. I could have used him as a teaching assistant!!

The Kenya booth offered a typical Kenyan repast of chicken wrapped in something like a flour tortilla. In fact, it was a flour tortilla. In fact, it was a Mission brand tortilla imported from California!  Yes, multiculturalism is wonderful.

So now, the only thing left is to choose which picture to use for Wednesday’s slide show. If anybody has an opinion, please chime in.



Classroom tie-ins

What we did for lesson 12b (Large)

This picture is a PowerPoint slide.  It’s full of illustrations from the previous lesson. While I collect papers in the class, I display this slide as a memory aid for the students. When I finish collecting, we then see how much anybody remembers.

It’s important that they do remember, because every lesson develops something from the previous lesson.  It makes more sense if you see where you are on the path.  If you want to try your hand at curriculum guessing, remember you can get a bigger picture by clicking on it.

I like to teach writing through “Writer’s Workshop,” and I like to teach people here (as well as back home) how to function in a writer’s group.  Students here seem conditioned to offer advice on how to improve their classmate’s writing.  They seem to love to rate each other.  And in fact, a lot of their schooling involves a sort of one-dimensional rating system. Who’s number one, who’s number two, etc.

Behind the Curve

This plays out in the assigning of grades on a curve.

Wherever I’ve gone to school before, there seem to have been two kinds of professors – the ones who grade strictly on percentage (90% = an A, etc.) and the kind who grade on curves.

And for the curves, the professor would simply note the top raw score, and assign an A to anybody within 90% of that score.  B’s would accrue to those scoring down to 80%, etc.  The actual percentages varied, but principle remained the same.   And in the unlikely event that the whole class scored within 90% of the top score, everybody would get an A.

Here, they also note the top score.  But then they line up the rest of the raw scores in a que.  The top few get the equivalent of an A, the next in line get a B, etc.   So you know, before the first day of class, how many A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. you’re going to have.  They don’t actually use letter grades here, but it works out the same way.

To me, this seems odd (or am I just naive?), since I’d never heard of such a thing before. On the other hand, my British colleague argued that it’s done that way in England, too. Otherwise you get grade inflation.  I guess it’s hard to argue that point.

Of course, those of you who know me know that I think grades and over-correction of one’s work by others have a, shall we say, <minimal> significance in the grand scheme of things.  Well, each to his own.

Social Services

But this weekend I read a very interesting piece of research by some guys at Stanford.  I say guys, because I’ve seen their pictures, and they all look like high school freshmen to me.

Anyway, the link to the original paper is here (it’s a pdf file).

And a link to a friendlier analysis of it is here.

They studied social media – group blogging sites, for example.  They found ways to analyze the quality of people’s writing. They followed (by computer) a large group of commentators and writers on four sites.  And they analyzed the consequences of good and bad ratings on their work, both for quality and quantity.

The American education tradition, drenched through with behaviorism, with incentives and rewards controlling everything, would probably expect that both praised and panned work might lead to improvement in quality, since the feedback is clear. One might also expect praise to encourage authors to write even more.

In practice, though, praise has only a marginal effect on writing’s quality or quantity.  Panning has a significant effect, however.  Unfortunately, the authors of panned work don’t “learn from their mistakes.”  Their writing’s quality drops significantly, while their output increases.    Furthermore, panned authors step up their negativity towards others, leading to a vicious circle of negativity.

On the other hand, if nobody comments at all, authors of all stripes tend to stop writing altogether.  Ah, what to do.


Writer's Workshop
An actual writer’s group

In my classroom, the writer’s groups are forbidden to give unsolicited suggestions and criticisms except for minor (but annoying) distractions like using “flied” or “sitted.”  Early in the semester I often encounter trespassers to this rule, not because they’re particularly mean people, but because they can’t get it through their head that it’s okay to enjoy their classmate’s writing  without feeling compelled to tell them what they got wrong and how to improve it.

In fact, it’s fun to catch people caught up in act of criticizing, put a stop to it, and then enjoy the expressions of relief on the face of their most recent victim.

But authors must receive some feedback, so what kind? After all, in the social media study, authors who never received feedback simply lost the desire to write altogether. My rules, which grace the chalkboard for every lesson are simple. Unless the author asks for a suggestion, you can tell the author:

  1. What was interesting
  2. Your own related experience.
  3. Ask Questions

As these rules take hold every semester, it’s remarkable how the class atmosphere lightens, and people discover that they can actually enjoy writing in this odd language called English.

Perhaps if such rules applied to social media, the often acrimonious atmosphere there would also lighten up. Maybe I should write the authors of that paper and suggest it as a new line of research.

Fishing for Photos

Fish Focus

There’s a rather grand exhibition hall near the north gate whose actual name I can never quite recall.  It’s named after the architect, a former student (or teacher?) from Tianjin University.   The hall takes up a really large chunk of campus, though the hall inside is only moderately grand.  The building is also home to the infamous “wall to nowhere,” but that’s a story for another time.

Fancy gate and bike lock
Fancy gate and blue bike lock

It has a new fancy gate which rotates around two posts – wide on the right side and narrow on the left.  At night, of course, it’s locked shut with the sturdy bike lock that rests in the middle there in the picture.

The concept of an emergency exit, though known, is rarely practiced in this country. Honestly, I think sometimes that more bike locks are used on doors than on bikes.

hall entrance
The hall entrance is behind these folks
Fish watchers
Poking the fish

Inside the gate lies an attraction for strollers — a watery expanse stocked with goldfish. It’s a constant draw to families with kids. And the temptation to play with these fish is nigh on irresistible.  I dare you to bring a young child here  without poking your finger in the water!!

Certainly I’ve never seen it.

And those fish remain there all year.  In the winter (until this year, at least), the pond freezes over completely, yet under the ice, blurry golden forms yet move!  I guess, then, they can go for months without eating if the water’s cold enough.

The Splash that draws the fish.
The splash that draws the fish.

Anyway, it’s not just women, but men, too, who bring in their infants so they can poke at the fish.  I’m guessing that this poker, actually a splasher,  brought along both his son and grandson so he could jab even harder than those women across the pond.

He demonstrated that you can actually “call” the fish over if you make like a thrashing bug in the water.  Interesting.

The son also seemed unusual. You’d be hard pressed to find anybody dressed like that (or tattooed like that) in China ten years ago.  I hope he has a motorcycle because he’d look pretty silly dressed like that mounted on a Flying Pigeon, the classic bicycle that I own.

a wall of viy
A whole wall as ivy playground

The architect designed the building’s huge expanse of walls partly as an ivy sculpture, though it’s still a few years from maturity.  The surface suits grasping plants perfectly, as exhibited by  the gleefully reaching tendrils in this picture.


Zombies are just as popular here as they are in many places.  Maybe more popular.  I think I finally understand why – because they actually exist. Luckily, they don’t devour human flesh — just reading material.

student zombie memorizing texts
The building 24 cafe

The example here was spotted slowly weaving his way back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, mumbling incoherently all the time, completely insensitive to his (or its?) surroundings, unstoppable, yet slow enough that passersby can easily outmaneuver or outrun him.

Yeah, a typical zombie.  You see them everywhere, particularly in the early morning hours.

This particular example is tramping through building 24, a huge conglomerate of classrooms and lecture halls.  The cafe, where the other studiers are congregating, was installed a couple years ago to relieve the otherwise hard institutional atmosphere.  It’s really quite pleasant and convenient, and on the opposite wall (outside the frame of the picture) an artsy collection of photos and drawings has collected in the otherwise blank and forbidding space.  I’m surprised that the cafe isn’t even more crowded.

The Administration building back patio
The administration building back patio

The parting shot features the otherwise obscure back patio of the main administration building. Across the street lies the new administration building.  So there’s not much traffic there, foot or otherwise.  I always wonder if that design was built there when the buildings first opened in the early 1950’s, or whether it represents a newer addition.

Strangely enough, I’ve never witnessed a fish in that pond.






Rainy Day Rainy Day Magic

Market Entrance
Market Entranceway

I actually like rainy days a lot. Maybe this comes from living in a  dry climate my whole life. It rained all day Sunday, so I got some more shots of the market area.

The latest newcomer to the cluster of mobile fast food outlets caught my eye to the right of the path.  The cart says Yangzhou Fried Rice — Yangzhou is a city closer to Shanghai than to here.  But the main attraction was the black and white picture of draft board Uncle Sam.  The cart’s labeling says he’s calling himself “Uncle Sam.” I guess HE WANTS ME . . . . . to buy friend rice.

Granny and Toddler
The Leopard Kid – watching everything.

As I took this picture, I glimpsed over my shoulder two pairs of eyes looking into the picture display on the back of the camera.  It appeared to be a granny and toddler, so how could I not snap their picture and show it to the kid?  You can see it, too.

This is the sort of thing that will be missing when the school moves next year to the middle of the land of nothing.  You won’t find many grannies out there.

rolling out the bing
Rolling out the bing – the fryer lays behind.

There is new housing being built for university  employees, and it’s being heavily promoted. And it’s also quite a bargain by East Asia standards. But it’s something like ten miles from the school, maybe in some other island of development.  When you’re used to a five minute commute, something like that hasn’t much appeal.  And if you’re faced with an hour commute to the new school from your present location, well, at least at the present location there are people like these to share the community.

PJ Civilization
PJ Civilization

Closer to the market itself, the puddles get  deeper. Luckily there are bricks and old boxes lying around that can conveniently serve as fording material.

And the picture shows what I consider the hallmark of a great civilization – the freedom to wear pajamas out of the house. Any society that condones such things must truly be considered great.

I know I’d never leave my robes if that were acceptable.

A few years ago, during the Olympics and during the Shanghai Expo, there was a big government campaign against displaying such sleepware in public, which I could never understand. Don’t they realize what they’ve got?  It’s the rest of the world that’s behind on this one.

Bridges of Brick
Bridges of Brick

Anyway, here’s a parting shot of the bricks to the market.  I was enjoying the sight immensely because I have waterproofed shoes.

I didn’t have to take the brickway. I could just take the pictures.

And again, there are standard-type stores and supermarkets and restaurants nearby, where you can buy food and other items without the danger of getting your feet wet, but to me, those places lack atmosphere and authenticity and the informal, laid-back atmosphere.

Anyway, that was my one break from lesson planning after church yesterday.

But speaking of church, it was the taxi ride back that was truly magical.

As one can imagine, taxi drivers often have their sound system turned on. Usually it’s local news, or sometimes Chinese opera, or Chinese standup comedy. But this guy was listening to Luciano Pavarotti singing opera arias along with other Italian classics.

There’s something magical about a rainstorm beating down on the car from all directions, and bouncing off the windshield,  with the car full of beautiful sound.  I finally know enough Chinese to recognize simple words when spoken to me, so we exchanged some standard pleasantries.

We lapsed into silence, and the music paused as well. The rain continued its tap-tap-tap on the fuselage.  And then Pavarotti began singing Ave Maria. “hmm,” I said.  “Huh?” said the taxi driver. “Ave Maria,” I said

Taxi Tenor
Taxi Tenor

Well, that’s all it took.  The guy erupted with one of the most beautiful singing voices I’d ever sat so close to.  He continued singing Ave Maria and other opera classics all the rest of the way home.  And that was truly magical.  Especially with the rain.

And naturally I snapped his picture.

I’ll add one thing to end this post.

I find myself here in China, perhaps the only place on earth more dedicated than America is to the behaviorist / John Locke principle that the learner’s mind is a blank slate, and that teachers (or parents or preachers or “experts”) simply pour in whatever formula or gruel that they choose, and the learner will embrace it.

I guess it’s obvious that I don’t share that point of view.

In teaching university students here, I was struck by how much they need the same instructional methodologies that I learned while teaching in elementary school, teaching methodologies that are fairly common in those early grades, but much less so the loftier you ascend into the stratosphere of academic life, until you reach the American graduate school, of course, which is more-or-less structured like a traditional kindergarten (and all the better for it).

Anyway, it’s nice to see one’s reality confirmed by experts. So here’s a link to a recent article touting the superiority of active teaching over lecturing. You can see it by clicking here.


The week’s PowerPoint intro pictures

China map

For my two PowerPoint slide presentations this week:

Trees and tall buildings
The Tianjin University Jungle plus bicyclist

The first shot is a retake of the view from Dining Hall #1, which I first put up a couple weeks ago.  The occasion for the retake was the blue sky. (The previous version was taken on a rainy day).

In this case, I tilted the view down to include a lone red-clad cyclist, wending his way into the wilds of the old dormitory ghetto.

The area with these trees, by the way, is the same area slated to be demolished when the school moves out of the city next year.

As I stood there on the dining hall, taking in the view of a growth so thick that the tall buildings seemed to be bobbing up and down in it, like corks on the ocean, I had to reflect on the fact that stability counts for everything in a social system such as a school.

Certainly, any success I had at my elementary school in California was predicated on the fact that I spent twenty-five years in the same room.  I grew professionally in a stable atmosphere where I kept students for two years at a time, and where I got to know the parents over an even longer period, as various siblings took tours of duty through my fields of educational battle.

And after twenty-five years, the room itself had become a finely-honed machine, its contents positioned and prepared to support any flight of fancy we wished to take, any spontaneous turn we wished to make.  It was magnificent.

These trees on the Tianjin University campus didn’t grow here overnight, and neither have I.  In six years here, I have had far more students than I ever had in thirty years of teaching in America. Multiple times as many, in fact (no wonder I have a hard time remembering their names). Yet, compared to most other teachers I know in China — especially foreign teachers — I have been blessed with stability here, too.

For six years I have been left pretty much alone by my department and the administration. Although I have technically been teaching the same course for the whole time, in fact, the course has shifted a little every year, taking new pathways that I was able to perceive  because this stability helped them to stand out from the background.

So when I see these trees, slated to be plowed under when the school goes south,  I mourn, because I know the sacrifice that disruption brings.  There cannot  be trees like this on the new campus for many a year.

Crowds of students at lunch time
Crowds of students at lunch time

Anyway, the second shot shows Dining Hall number 3, the most crowded of the six dining halls on campus.

You’ll notice the bright white panels of light around the room’s edge. Each of them surmounts the serving window for a separate food subcontractor.

So the food vendors line three sides of the vast room, while the fourth side features the main entrance, stations to drop off dirty dishes, and a small concession that sells bottled water, potato chips, and other such munchie-type snacks.

I myself never go in here for lunch. I do sometimes go across the street to dining hall number 4, which is never as crowded, maybe because it has twice the floor space.   That is, it has two rooms like the one in the picture, one on top of the other.

I asked some students yesterday why Dining Hall 3 is always so crowded, even though one can just go across the street and be more comfortable.  I should have known the answer.   The food in dining hall 3 is cheaper.

Actually, I don’t usually eat premises of any dining hall.  I do like the food, but you can get it “to go,” which was one of the very first phrases I learned upon my arrival here. In fact, when you look at this picture, and see the crowds clamoring for food around the room’s periphery, and then observe that there aren’t enough empty seats remaining to accommodate them all, don’t be concerned.  Many of those students have also learned that phrase. And by the way, the phrase is “Dài Zǒu”  (带走)

How the 带走 is handles varies by the food vender, but basically it’s some variation on dishing up the plate you want, and then pouring it all into a plastic bag (minus the plate, of course).  Disposable chopsticks are available at the same table where the normal plastic ones are located.

And again, the food is pretty good. Perhaps a gourmet restaurant would do a better job, but it would be a lot more expensive. I generally would spend about the equivalent of a dollar for a filling lunch, which is actually way more expensive than five years ago, let alone ten years ago.  And if you carry it out to your home or office all mixed together in a bag, it still tastes good.

By the way, speaking of Chinese writing like 带走,  you might notice the red banners with white writing spread across the right-hand wall.

Banners like these are ubiquitous, not only around the university, but in the city as well. They may hang in dining halls like these. They may straddle streets.  They may drape the facades of buildings. They may even thread themselves through the the framework of iron fences.   They are always red.  And they always have white writing, usually about the size that you see in the picture.

An interesting experiment might be to print some blue or green banners with black letters and see if anybody notices them.

Oh, and what do they say in this case? Glad you asked. They say:

— 请同学们保管好自己的贵重物品 .
— 因为绿色所以健康, 因为营养所以美和。
— 中快餐饮欢迎你

Which (more-or-less)mean:

— Fellow students, please guard your valuables.
— From natural food flows health. From nutritious food flows harmony.
— The Chinese quick-food-and drink facility welcomes you.

So I’ll end this post by saying “Good health to all!”




All together, now!

China is famous for its mass holiday migrations.  The holiday effect is stronger here because usually everybody in the whole country (which, as they are so fond of reminding us, has more everybodies than any other country) takes exactly the same precise days off.

Beijing-SouthTrain Station
Beijing-South Train Station on Labor Day weekend

I usually don’t travel during the holidays here for reasons of claustrophobia, but I made an exception this weekend. It was a three-day weekend, Thursday-Friday-Saturday (which makes Sunday a non-weekend day).

I figured It would be safe to take a day-trip to nearby Beijing to see an old friend and spend the day at the zoo, especially if I went on Friday, the middle day of the holiday, since most people would presumably rather travel on Thursday or Saturday, so they could visit family and friends on Friday.

The picture above, taken last night at the train station in Beijing, Friday night, shows the folly of that assumption, and makes me more than glad that I didn’t try to go on Thursday or today.  Could they possibly have been more crowded? Maybe so.

Well, as my friend pointed out, now that those wonderful high-speed trains are running all around the country, more people than ever can visit Beijing on holiday.

the train second class
They proudly post the speed on the red display

Indeed, I was not totally surprised by the human crush. I had almost canceled the journey, in fact, when I looked online and discovered just how few seats were available for any weekend trains.  Still, a Chinese friend succeeded in snagging me tickets online so at least I knew there would be a seat waiting for me on the train each way.

And by the way, the train system really is wonderful.  I didn’t get a photo of the interior this time, but the shot above comes from three years ago, when my dad came to visit. I think that if we had high-speed trains this nice in America, particularly along the northeast corridor, but also in other places, we wouldn’t have such jammed airports, and more of us could forego the incredible hassle that airports have become.

And like here, high-speed trains just invite people to move for whatever reason, whether business or pleasure.

Tianjin Riverfront
Any place that’s wet will have a fisherman

The day started really early on Friday morning, since that’s when the train seats were available.   This picture shows the current early-morning state of the riverfront in Tianjin.  The train station and its plaza are out of frame to the right.  Most of the large buildings in the picture have appeared since I got here six years ago. The sky, one should note, is blue.

The price of the 70-mile half-hour trip, by the way, is the equivalent of $9.50 each way.

crowded car
The advantage: It’s almost impossible to fall over.

Of course, the train has an assigned seat for each passenger.

When I got to Beijing, the subway had no reserved seats, and no seats free, for that matter.

But for the equivalent of about 35 cents for a trip of any length, it’s a pretty good deal, even if you have to stand.

From the train station you can reach any part of the city by subway.  And on a weekend like that, half the world seemed to be riding. The zoo was only six miles down the line – no transfers necessary.

Advertisers are really clever.  They have even found a use for the darkest portions of the subway tunnel.  They line the tunnel walls with the electronic version of those old animation flipbooks.  In other words, they hang a row of a couple hundred flickering computer displays.

Each screen down the line displays the next frame in an animation.  The flickering is keyed to the normal cruising train speed, so when that speed is reached, this blurred colored line of lights suddenly consolidates into a row of identical animations, each one shifted one frame in time from the one next to it.

Beijing subway animated ad
What’s lurking in the dark.

Anyway, the photo shows what it looked like through the windows in the doors.  At the next stop, so many people got in that it was no longer possible to see that view.

The zoo itself proved to be just as crowded as the rest of the tourist infrastructure.  One advantage to the huge crowds, though was that you never had  to walk up to a cage or enclosure  and be disappointed that the animal was asleep and out of sight, because from a distance you could tell if there was anything living and breathing within sight.

Any visible living creature, no matter how ordinary, attracted a mass of photographers wielding everything from cell phones to tablets to high-end digital single-lens reflexes sporting several pounds of glass.  I had brought my Olympus OM-D, perhaps the nicest camera I’ve ever owned.

panda exhibit pheasants.
Pheasants line the path to the pandas

Take a look at this crowd, which fills a space within the popular panda exhibit, but it’s not even the panda enclosure – it’s just a cage full of pheasants and peacocks.  The crowd at the actual panda  enclosure was too thick to get an overview picture.

This was my fourth or fifth trip to this zoo, and in case anyone’s wondering, the crowds are not normally so crazy.  Yes, it’s a popular place, but next time I go, I think I’ll use an ordinary weekend or even a weekday instead.

That said, the animals were still present and impressive.  In fact, the animals often had more room to move around in their cages than the onlookers did on the footpaths.

Peacock closeup
The peacock – plenty of tail room

And since this entry is really meant as an excuse to post pictures, I think I’ll break from the writing and put in a row of photos, most of them standard 1920 by 1080 if you click the thumbnails.



A Meercat
Griffon Vulture
Griffon Vulture
Panda Skeleton
Panda Skeleton – note the six-toed forefeet
Kids feeding zebras
Kids feeding Zebras

This zebra picture highlights one aspect of this zoo that, for better or worse, you’re not going to find anywhere else — the high degree of interactions between the exhibits and the public.

Much of it is not sanctioned, such as the kids feeding zebras above. On the other hand, it’s not aggressively discouraged, either.

Feeding the giraffes
Feeding the giraffes

Some animal interaction is organized, though, such as the giraffe-feeding exhibit, where you can buy special giraffe food and walk inside to feed it to the giraffes. I still remember seeing this 15 years ago on my first-ever trip, though I’ve never tried it myself. It just seems too out-of-place, I guess, though I do remember feeding giraffes in a less-sanctioned manner at the Portland zoo, a practice that is now not possible.

Sometimes, the commotion from the tourists is so great that the effect on the animals is almost palpable, such as the older male chimp who had climbed to a high point of his enclosure, and remained standing there with his face to the wall and his back to the crowd.  Not all animals are so viscerally sensitive as chimps, but those animals that were must have appreciated the crowds that day even less than I did.

The fearsome and not-so-wild mastiff

Additional interactive exhibits can be found at the children’s zoo, including  farm animals for petting.  This area is fenced off from the rest of the zoo and in fact requires a separate admission price (equivalent of about $1.50)

However, there were also several cages of pure-bred dogs.  Some, like the mastiff, lay in a cage behind glass just like so many wild creatures. It gives one pause, in fact, to see such a familiar animal as a dog in the same surroundings as a bear or lion.

Dogs, of course, were forbidden in Beijing for a couple generations, up until about ten years ago.  So lots of Beijing people have little-to-no experience with them.  Some of them think of dogs pretty much the same way as they might think of wolves. So having dogs in the children’s zoo, to breed some familiarity with Canis familiaris, seems to me a good idea.


And in fact, there’s a dog-walking area within the children’s zoo. You can rent almost any size of dog and try it out to see how it feels next to you.

Mostly it was little kids who took part in this, and most of them took out small dogs like toy poodles.  However, other dogs were available, including afghans, dalmatians, huskies, corgis, and golden retrievers.  The largest dog that I saw get a walk that day was a Bernese Mountain Dog.  It was pretty excited, I can tell you.

The children’s section closes earlier than the rest of the zoo. One time I was present near day’s end, when all the people had left that section.  I could still see over the fence, though, as those caged dogs were let out to run around and play with each other for a while.   A happier group of animals you’ll never see.

Patron Saint of the Forest
Patron Saint of the Forest

I’ll end this piece with a couple non-animal pictures. First off is the huge tiger sculpture located near the lion cage by artist and environmental activist 袁熙坤 (Yuan Xikun).  I took a picture of it three years ago, but an update with a blue sky seemed desirable.

Tigers are a particular interest of Yuan’s, and this one started out as a small bronze piece entitled “Patron Saint of the Forest.”  The more recent version is slightly larger.

And finally, despite the immense Labor Day crowds, the zoo is big enough to include some areas, off to the west from most cages and animals, where people can go and just enjoy the air.  This spot is one that I photographed three years ago, and the printed result hangs on my wall here in China.  It was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon it again, this time much earlier in the growing season, before the pond surface is smothered over by a mass of giant lotus leaves.

Beijing Zoo at peace
There’s always somebody sitting on that bench.




Happy May Day

plants, poles and fish
Fishing in the former countryside

I took some pictures on May Day, May 1, generally known as “Labor Day” in these parts.

First up is a fisherman at Aiwan Lake. Even if you know this lake, you might find it hard to recognize from the picture, so rustic it looks.

It serves as a handy reminder, though, that this area where the university is located was simple countryside 60 years ago when they decided to build it here.

The reeds, by the way, have sprouted from the pond bottom in the last month. I expect them to get a bit higher before they’re done.

water and squirts
Surprising Pedestrians for ten years

The second shot  shows everybody’s favorite fountain, at the entrance to the university. It’s the same one that was placed on the 2014 calendar.

These and the other local fountains only actually run on special occasions. Just behind it stands the national flag, raised every morning by a dedicated and disciplined cadre of young people.

bike repair
Bike Repair and Pipes

Finally, we see the local bike guy.  He’s been occupying the same corner ever since I’ve moved here.  He has a constant business (including mine) despite the presence of a competitor just across the street.

Actually, the competitor ends up sitting around most of the day.

The guy I’m talking about is the one on the left.  The guy on the right could be any of the local community that stays on the bike guy’s good terms. They seem to walk up at any time, grab a resource (usually the compressed air), start to work, and then pay him later.

Locals always seem to be stopping by to examine the latest equipment conundrum.  My most recent job (which I let him handle completely) was remounting the chain of my Flying Pigeon. Before that, he replaced the pigeon’s brakes and swapped in a taller seat post.

He used to work with a woman whom I always assumed was his wife, but I haven’t seen her in quite a while. I’m hoping that she’s just busy somewhere taking care of a grandkid.

Grandparents, by the way, particularly grandmothers, are heavily involved with raising their grandkids to extent not so common in America.  I have to say, since most households have two parents working, it’s a tremendous luxury to have such dedicated child care help. So that’s where I’m hoping she is.