For my two PowerPoint slide presentations this week:
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.
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。
— 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!”