April Flowers

China mapGreetings from China,

Here’s to health.  For over a year, mine has been constant misery.  But earlier last month I discovered the principal cause – a medicine that I had been taking for high blood pressure. So I switched medicines. It was like waking from a year-long nightmare.

Yeah I still don’t compare to 34-year-old me, who swam a mile in 32 minutes several times a week (never did reach my goal of 30 minutes, though <sigh>).  I’ve still got stuff to deal with.  The medicine was not the only cause.  But still. I feel fairly normal for the first time in well over a year. It’s a good feeling. And my feet continue to heal, too.  I briskly walked the standard 2.5 mile “Tour de Tian Da” with my friend Jean last week, with no foot pain at all. Makes me want to go somewhere again, for the first time in a long time.  Just not sure exactly where, yet.  Oh, and I also have 241 essays to grade <sigh> so it won’t be this week.

IMG_5492 teahouse talkSpeaking of my students, here are some of them pretending to be historical figures, discussing current events a la “Meeting of Minds.”

When you click to get the closeup version, you’ll note that,  as in each of the past thirty years, my students are the most adorable on earth. And they’re smart, too.

IMG_5107 (Medium)And then, there’s this: a flavor of Lay’s chips that you’ll probably not find stateside — Seaweed.  Perhaps I should start a chip of the month series to highlight some of them.

Too Small to Fail

I usually attend an international Christian Fellowship on Sundays. We meet in a hotel about a half-hour taxi  ride from here (about four miles, in other words).  We used to meet on the campus of a private school, but they got bought out by Nankai University, so we had to move a couple years ago. The photo is a panorama which shows the ballroom where we hold court, but we’ve rented many additional rooms in the same building complex for various purposes.

2016-03-27 Fellowship Panorama 1 (Custom)To satisfy the local government, only foreigners are allowed at this gathering, and they check passports at the door to be sure. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse congregations I know, certainly more diverse than any back in the states. Occasionally I play saxophone, usually with a group of Africans who really can raise the roof.

So the news that we might have to move again was certainly unwelcome. But unfortunately, the hotel was going bankrupt. It wasn’t really a surprise, since business hadn’t seemed brisk of late. So finally the slowing economy in China was going to have an impact on me personally. The elders began casting about for another site.

But then, an interesting thing happened. The government stepped in and simply stated that, no, the hotel was not allowed to fold — like it or lump it. Instead, they suggested that the hotel secure some investors and close temporarily for renovation. When they reopen with more attractive facilities, they ought to be a more successful concern.

I don’t think this strategy would play out quite this way where I come from. In fact, I’ll believe it happens here when I actually see it. But it certainly does highlight the interconnectedness in this society, without which nobody would even think up such a scheme.

So the only question now is whether we’ll be allowed to continue meeting while the hotel under renovation and all the regular staff have been let go.  It seems likely, but who knows?

Spring — old and new

My series comparing and contrasting the new and old campuses continues.

Old campus old dormsThe first “old campus” shot shows some of the oldest dorms in the central campus. These will be torn down sooner or later in order to make space for the business park that’s scheduled to be constructed here.

The picture shows a small porch between two adjacent buildings. The low fence which frames the porch was simply improvised out of a pile of bricks. But it’s charming.

The door here at the building’s end is not normally opened, though such doors can open in unusual circumstances.  I remember once seeing students passing out departmental T-shirts from one of these doors at the beginning of the year in September.
And then, a young man took out his camera to capture his girl friend, who must have once lived there.
Chalk DecorationExtending her arm in the common “victory salute” that seems emblematic of all Chinese young people,  she posed herself in front of a student-created picture, affixed to the dorm wall. Maybe she’d created it.  Who knows?

The message in the center says something like “Youth, without regret, in march step, walks the path to the barracks.” (at least I think it’s something like that). The message on the ribbon says “Software Institute. Barracks 3, Connection 14” (or something like that — just knowing what the characters mean doesn’t guarantee that you know what the message means).

Many old dorms feature these mini- masterpieces, sketched in chalk. They usually last for several months before the rain washes them away or a newer drawing replaces them. They convey a hominess, a charm and warmth, despite the military theme and the cold bricks that back it up. In the distance, the willows have begun leafing around Youth Lake. And further back, the vigilant Tianjin Television Tower demonstrates that we occupy the heart of a metropolis.

IMG_4697 Leprechuan invasion cropped for PowerPointThe “new campus” picture shows some of the new dorms (I think). They are the rectangular buildings with the faux brick facades.

These brick facades come in two shades.  Some people claimed that the lighter ones were dorms. Others claimed that the darker ones were dorms. Like everything else in Chinese, it’s probably not so clear cut.

Certainly the darker building in the foreground is no dorm. In fact, it seems built for giants, not people.  And this gigantism is no trick of the lens. Try to make out the Lilliputian bikes leaning against it.  Of course, none of these buildings features student-sketched chalk drawings, military or otherwise. Every line must be clean and sterile.

IMG_5058 flowers cropped for PowerPoint (Large)The following week, I glanced out one of my new-campus classroom windows and witnessed the noontime sun lighting up the flowering fruit trees like fluffy pink sparklers next to the neighboring engineering building.

I grabbed the shot. Later in the day, I took the bridge over there to get a closer look.

IMG_5042 first flowers cropped for PowerPoint (Large) From there, the flowers seem gigantic, encrusting my classroom building as if it were an arbor. Well, this actually is just a trick of the lens. Those trees, or any of the other trees, will never grow big enough to balance the overpowering bulk of those buildings.

Still, the flowers were appreciated, and a surprising number of them appeared in the subsequent weeks.

Neptune by the LakeSo I sought out flowers on the old campus, as well.  And since my previous dorm picture only showed the end of the building, I grabbed this shot of almost an entire dorm building to make up for it.

Yeah, despite the brick commonality, these old-campus buildings harbor a much deeper and more rugged character. And everything about them is solid and weighty.

I’ve been inside one of those once or twice. It’s solid and weighty in there, too, but also drafty and dark. And there are no showers. However there are laundry rooms. There are no washing machines, just sinks. But  one can improvise and give oneself a cold shower by standing in the sinks.  Yeah, it’s not luxury. I’ve heard that the new campus dorms are luxurious in comparison.

As I stood framing the shot, a man came walking along the wall next to “Youth Lake,” carrying a bag and a trident. Was he Neptune overseeing his realm? He kept walking and soon he was out of sight. I showed the picture to my students, and they didn’t understand what he was doing, either.

Melbourne, focus of the universe

My Australian friends Jeanette and Norma discovered an Australian exhibit in the 1895 building, the architecture business associated with Tianjin University. It’s called “The Black Box,” because those black boxes that record airplane diagnostic information were invented in Melbourne. And so was everything else you’ve ever heard of, apparently.

Black BoxThe exhibit consisted of little black boxes held up on posts, arranged in a large grid in a dark (naturally) room. You take a smart phone, lay it across one of these boxes, and the screen lights up with yet another Melburnian invention. Oddly, there was no fish ‘n chips — not even a picture!

There were, however, images of child safety seats, camping coolers, power strips, footballs (Australian Rules, though), trash bins, electric guitars, and almost every useful item known to modern man.  Leave it to Melbourne to furnish light in the darkness!

Now and Then

My continuing series of Now and Then pictures features the track stadium on campus. My first visit to this spot occurred eighteen years ago. At the time, it was an empty lot. We took some students out there to play a game of pickup baseball.  Not many years after that, the wave of development swept over it and the stadium sprang up. Over the years, I’ve visited that spot with many significant friends.

2008-09-25 Track panorama (2) (Custom)

The panorama above was taken in the fall of 2008.  My friend Rob and I had come out for two reasons. First, to talk to our departmental head, Mr. Yang, and ask him a favor. And second, like Mr. Yang, to cheer on the colleagues in our department as  they competed in various track and party games. Like bullfighting, it’s more than a sport — it’s a ritual with deep and symbolic cultural roots. Rob and I could have taken part in it, but somehow our American culture was not quite attuned.

Anyway, if you look closely, you can make out the teams from various academic departments passing quietly by in formation as a lead-up to the actual competitions.

2016-03-26 Stadium Panorama 2 trimmed to match (Custom) (2)So a couple Saturdays ago, I returned to that stadium and rediscovered the exact seats that we had occupied almost eight years ago. And I snapped the above panorama. Since the area was already pretty well developed in 2008, one doesn’t see such dramatic changes in eight years.  But if you look closely and compare, you can find lots of new tall buildings in almost every direction.  Yes, development continues apace.