Monthly Archives: October 2014

The end of the holiday

rain in Tianjin
The last of the monsoons

The life of Riley.  Ten days of holiday right in the fall, when most public schools in America endure their longest non-holiday slogfest.

In contrast, I’ve mainly been sleeping.  I have spent some time studying Chinese, though not enough.  Oh, and I did hold a movie night on Friday – old episodes of Roseanne and Cosby.

And there were a few lunches with friends – some of you know Professor Ji. He’s had some health challenges in the past, but lunch last week showed him in great shape – practically buff. And his daughter Linda attended movie night!

So tomorrow, Wednesday, everybody goes back to work, except that I don’t have classes on Wednesday. Yeah, life is tough. And I’m fully and overly-prepared for class on Thursday, having planned two hours worth of activities to somehow fit in 95 minutes, the way all public school teachers in America do.

I’ll have four such sections every Thursday, with a repeat every Tuesday. No classes at all on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. Yeah, just two preparations a week. As I (probably too) often say, my job here is the Life of Riley compared to any public school teaching job in America.

As for planning, all my PowerPoint presentations begin with a recently-snapped shot taken somewhere on campus.  This new blog format was meant (in part) to facilitate the display these two-pictures-per-week, and include them in more regular communications to friends and family. But  I’ve posted none so far this fall, so its time to deal with the three-week backlog.

Pictures for the week of September 15

The architecture buildling
The architecture building reflected in Aiwan Lake.

Here we see our our well-known architecture building, designed by a member of the university faculty many years ago, and recently refurbished with a new and better-attached facade.  It seems to rise from the swamp like lotus.

Yeah, no water shortage here. And not many mosquitoes, either, particularly compared to my first visit in the summer of 1998. I wonder how they accomplished that?

And that blue sky? Much more common this year, partly the result of fewer automobiles.  On each of the five weekdays, cars with license numbers ending in 2 particular digits can’t drive during worktime hours.

Also, cars without a Tianjin license plate are similarly banned. So out-of-towners all flock in during the weekend. Yes, Saturday and Sunday are a bit more crowded than before, but on balance, traffic flows smoother.

It also flows smoother from stepped-up law enforcement, even though the police seem no more active than before. But new high-tech cameras line the streets. If they pick up rule-breakers, they simply note the license plate and mail out a follow-up fine. One of my car-owning Dutch friends found out the hard way, for example, that one does not pull into the bike lane when making a right turn. So, yeah, traffic and pollution are improving in Tianjin.

Sophomores in uniform
Sophomores in uniform

Here we see blue-clad students heading to dinner. Every year,  sophomores undergo a week or so of military training exercises. Last year, I got a great shot of the exercises themselves – tightly packed squadrons of young men and women marching this way and that across the parade ground of our campus track-and-soccer stadium.

It always struck me that those bright blue camouflage uniforms don’t really blend in with anything. So I Photoshopped the picture to impose a camouflage pattern on everything. If the camouflage can’t match the background, then make the background match the camouflage. You can click on the picture to see what I mean.  Actually, the blue still stands out in all that distortion.

Some of those sophomores march with plastic toy automatic rifles.  At least, I hope they’re plastic toys. I noticed this year that only the women carry them. Well, perhaps that’s wise.

Pictures for the week of September 22

The bike that blocks
An annoying bike parking strategy

This sudden September downpour fell the same day as the shot at the top of this post. Everybody dashed under a Coca Cola umbrella or stood under the eaves of the general store by the north gate, my favorite place to shop on campus. In fact, it was my first place to shop on campus back in 1998, when I bought that “Beijing” brand suitcase.

That store has the widest selection per square meter of any I’ve ever seen. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, then you probably don’t actually want it, anyway.  And you can assuage any disappointment with snacks from the windows that wrap around the ground floor.  Yeah, they even sell hula-hoops.

The shot also includes an item that nobody wants — the all-too-common Thoughtless Biker. You don’t see him in the picture. (It’s usually a him) because he dashed into the general store to get an umbrella, leaving his bike parked in the entrance at left. And actually, two such clueless bikers had left their bikes completely blocking access. One bike was moved so I could exit the store before taking this picture.

Feasting magpies
Where’s a good scarecrow when you need one?

One of my favorite birds is the magpie, a crow relative. Old-world magpies are a bit bigger than those in America, but otherwise look and act the same.

These two had discovered ripening ears in our campus cornfield. Actually, not everybody here is aware that the campus has a corn field.  It’s over by one of the two campus shower facilities, a place with water so hard that soap won’t lather. (according to one of my students who only uses the other facility).

Pictures for the weeks of September 29 and October 6

Running the Gauntlet
Running the Gauntlet

There is a long, straight road on the border of Tianjin University with Nankai University.  Back in the old days, its place was occupied by ramshackle buildings for university employees, plus a shoal of small shops and restaurants.  It all tied the two campuses together. I still remember, for example, how our favorite jiaozi restaurant back then had a Tianjin University Entrance as well as a Nankai University entrance on the other side.

Well, all that’s been cleared out long ago. The employees now have a much nicer place to live, but in place of the porous sponge of a community, we now have fences and a wide strip of asphalt. And even access to that is restricted.  The photo shows students traversing the one remaining official portal between the two campuses, crossing the street, restricted to a dark steel-lined corridor, shaded by an overhead fortress of a building.

The buildings in the background stand on Weijin Lu, one of the city’s principal arteries. The asphalt could easily be extended out to there, and probably will be some day. But for now, all that would do is provide additional easy access to the two campuses, and where’s the sense in that?

For the national holiday, the weather’s been absolutely magnificent.  And I’ve long suspected that the founding of this state was scheduled precisely to coincide with the nicest weather of the year.

Monumental Kids
Monumental Kids

At any rate, the fine days brought out swarms of ordinary people onto the campus. Old people, working people, kids, and infants.  One of the nice things here is the atmosphere of a complete community, particularly on holidays and weekends.

The picture for Thursday shows some skaters on the main square of the campus interrupting their revelries to mark the passage of a toddler through their raceway.

The monument in the background bears tribute to one of Tianjin University’s early leaders, and another bunch of kids plays under his benevolent gaze.

Beiyang Square
Beiyang Square

Years ago, this square was a much more natural area. In many ways, I mourned the loss of the soft earth, hills, grass, trees and bushes for this level hard-surfaced floor.

However, I have to admit that the openness of the new configuration attracts activity of every sort, from campus clubs displaying their projects to late-night line dancing.  This bonus picture, taken the same day, shows the overall layout.

Holiday players
Holiday players

The picture makes the campus look like it’s right in the heart of the city. Which it is. I wonder how much of a normal community will flock out to the new campus out in the middle of those red-and-blue-roofed industrial buildings in the countryside, like those shown from the air in my previous post.

So here’s a closing nostalgic shot of that same square again, at sunset, full of celebrating people.

It was the close of a beautiful day.