Greetings from the old campus,
Back in Town
I’m continuing to rest and recover. Early this morning, for the first time in months, I actually felt like getting dressed. Of course, yesterday, I had spent the entire day indoors in pajamas, de-cluttering my apartment, so no wonder. A few more days of de-cluttering, and I’ll have an attractive home again.
Having dressed, I wandered about this old campus. And I was amazed at how much stronger I was feeling than when I left in June. I guess the daily (sometimes twice-daily) naps are beginning to pay off.
This was an official move-in day for the university, so I saw lots of students pulling suitcases, many topped by pillows. In some cases, the students should have gone to the new campus instead of the old one, but they didn’t know where the new one was located, so they just came here to be re-directed.
And big news!! After an absence of several years, the ducks and geese have returned to Aiwan Pond!! I can’t help but wonder if the old man is back, the guy who studied Japanese, the one who tended them before. The picture shows the shelter that somebody built to house them. They even put up little fences on each side of it to keep human intruders at bay.
The morning was bright, and the air had returned to its normal polluted haziness after some pretty clear days in previous weeks.
Actually, there had been a lot of clear days this month, due to the celebration of the victory over Japan in world war II. In America, the day is called VJ day, to distinguish it from VE day, but nobody here cares about VE, so “V day” it is.
Anyway, all the nearby factories had shut down for the ceremony, and a magnificent photo-op was staged in the capital – a military parade of impressive proportions. The general public was excluded from attending this parade, of course. That’s true of all such events, as far as I know. On the other hand, it could be viewed on television. Those who are curious can click here to see it.
The camera, after the chorus’s intro, and before the parade itself, emphasizes who actually did attend. This focus on the identities of important attendees is common, not only for government events, but also for business and academic events as well.
The coming semester
Meanwhile, I had received my schedule for the coming semester. One full day teaching from 8:30 to 5:00 on Wednesdays at the new campus, followed by one full day teaching on Thursdays at the new campus. Four sections at each location, for a total of eight sections in all. I have a feeling that by Thursday night I’ll be ready for an early bedtime.
Why were the days scheduled right next to each other like that, with no chance to recover one’s strength in between? Almost certainly because it just never entered the minds of the scheduling officials that human factors might affect their scheduling decisions. Such considerations are not common here.
And as for my former teaching colleagues in California, whose working hours are triple what mine are (or more), and who are wondering what I have to complain about, hey, I’m retired. Gimme a break! And by the way, my same lesson plan should serve for all eight sections each week.
One salutary effect of the new schedule, though, is that for once I might be able to observe my Chinese colleagues teaching their English classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. For the last several years everybody’s classes were scheduled on the same two days, and since I’ve always taught more hours than they do, (Howzzat, former California colleagues??) I could rarely visit any of their classes. At last, my curiosity may be assuaged.
Last time, I wrote about the new campus. This time, I actually went there. Most classes have not yet begun, and, indeed, my first classes are not scheduled to begin until September 30. So several of us ventured down there to check the place out.
At last – the new campus
About a week ago, city buses began running between the two campuses. There had been rumors of such a thing, and friends had sent me announcements, sometimes with conflicting details. Only when the buses were actually parked, ready to depart, and we could question the drivers face to face, could we actually be sure. The good news is that the terminal stop on this end is located at the entrance to our housing development. It couldn’t be more convenient.
The regular bus stops 26 times, winding its way through town. It takes about an hour and a half to reach the new campus at the end of the line. However, in even better news, there are also express buses that stop only four times and make the trip in 45 minutes, at least in minimal traffic. At US $0.80 for the faster trip, it’s twice as expensive, but the extra forty cents (US) is worth it, in my view. We all piled into the express bus.
Forty-five minutes later, we de-bussed at the southeast entrance, which is not the main entrance. We began the long trudge into the middle of campus.
The old campus is about half university and half residences. The new campus is about the same size as the old one, but with hardly any residences. So there’s lots of room to spread out labs, dorms, and classrooms. And spread they did! The good news is that the trees are not planted in the middle of the sidewalks, like they usually are in town, so the long hikes everywhere are unimpeded.
“Bauhaus with Bricks”
Before they built the new campus, the site was an old warehouse district. In light of recent events, who knows what the soil might contain at this point? Anyway, the architects who designed the new campus seem to have taken the site’s history into account, because almost all the buildings we saw that day had that typical Kleenex-box warehouse shape, albeit with a brick facade.
Here, for example is building 44, where my classes will be held. From this angle, it looks like two buildings, but it’s only one. Inspiring? Perhaps someday, when the trees grow large enough to obscure its rectangular outline. You’d think that such a huge building would have enough classrooms to hold half the city. However, there’s a lot of wasted open space inside.
Here’s a view of the hollow innards of building 44. It reminds me, more than anything else, of a prison exercise yard, particularly with the surveillance cameras, and the hallways along the walls suitable for guard patrols. Or maybe it’s just an empty Kleenex box.
In any case, there’s more volume devoted to open space than to classrooms. This inefficient use of space means longer journeys for getting around anywhere in the building (except for on the ground floor, of course).
In fact, I was told that the school library, which squats next door, is constructed in the same hollow manner. The library was the only major building I saw that day without a brick facade – it’s the grey one in the picture above behind building 44. If such hollow buildings are typical, then it’s a tremendous waste of space, spreading out the buildings more than is necessary, entailing ever-longer walking times. On the other hand, all the hiking should keep us all in better physical shape.
And speaking of exercise, we happened upon some sophomores undergoing their required military training. The picture shows the ends of rows that extended for a third of a kilometer down the lane. At last, there’s enough space for all of them to participate in the same drills at the same time and location. Indeed, the many wide, straight avenues on campus reminded me ever so much of the one used for military parades in Beijing.
The administration building
We wanted to enter a classroom and try out a projector. As I’ve mentioned many times before, higher education in China lives and dies on PowerPoint. How would it work here?
To run the projector (we had been told) required a special card, like a hotel’s key-card, to slide into a slot on the console. No such cards had yet been issued to any of us. How could we try out a projector, then? There had to be an answer, since presumably teachers might misplace such cards from time to time.
We spent two and a half hours talking to everyone from guards to officials, in person and on the phone, in order to figure this out. Everyone had a different story about what we would need.
At one point, our journey led us to the “1895 Building,” one of the administration buildings. Inside the lobby, we discovered rows of clerks around the room’s periphery, who represented various administrative departments. One row of clerks represented the “International Cooperation Office,” the people who oversee the foreigners at the university.
Over the years, of course, we have worked closely with the people in the International Cooperation Office, in recent years with a highly-competent and caring administrator named “Echo.”
Now, it would appear, we would have to work through this row of gate-keeping clerks, all of whom to me were strangers. As for the real administrators, they were locked away somewhere else. And even if the room appeared to be a lobby, there were no stairs, elevators or hallways to provide access to any other part of the building.
Well, no clerk in any row seemed to know the answers. We might have given up at that point, had we not run into an acquaintance, a professor from the English department, who had come into the “lobby” at that time by chance. HE knew the answer. He knew how to get the projector working when we had no card.
So we had wasted two and a half hours of our time, as well as the time of various well- intentioned but misinformed guards, clerks, and officials. It would merely be a mildly interesting anecdote if not for the fact that this is the way things here work all the time. Official sources of information are spotty at best, but if you happen to know the right person, then you can find out what’s actually going on. This, then, is one aspect of the culture that tends to wear on me over time.
Well, at least that “lobby” had a nice shiny-clean floor. And, to be clear, all of the clerks, guards, and officials that we had spoken to that day were positive and helpful to a fault. It’s the system that makes life difficult, not the many individuals who struggle within it. You can’t share information that you don’t have, or share good information when you don’t know that yours is faulty.
In no time, we’d tried out a classroom projector, noted its various strengths and weaknesses, and visited all of our actual classrooms. Before heading home, we decided to celebrate by eating lunch at a student cafeteria. Naturally, the meal cards from the old campus would not work here. But as a stop-gap measure, they were selling little paper tickets – one per yuan – with which to purchase food.
The first thing I did upon entering the building was to slip and almost fall. It was the slickest shiny-clean floor I had ever seen in an eatery of any kind. Of course, that little spot of invisible mystery liquid was not supposed to be there. But what about when it rains? I can imagine the domino effect as hundreds of students, all released from classes at the same time, and with a much shorter lunch hour than before, rush into the building.
As for the food itself, it was serviceable. Well, it’s a student cafeteria, isn’t it? With that in mind, it was quite good. And it was cheap. I paid about US $1 for two-and-a-half helpings. I just need to remember to wear shoes with rubber soles for the next time I go there.
The Soulless Campus
Like most information in China, most of what I had heard about the new campus was spotty and contradictory. Anybody who wants real information better go find out in person, or know the right people. One thing had always stuck with me, though. A colleague’s student had visited last spring, and described it to her as “The place has no soul.” I had always wondered what he’d meant by that. But, as I stared out a window from one Big Box to another, I think I began to understand his meaning.
Compare this picture to any of the six pictures of the old campus at the top of this message: