23 February 2012

Southwest University in Beibei (near Chongqing)

My stereotypes and second-hand ideas about what life would be like at a Chinese university have been shattered after just a week at Southwest University--and my classes have not even begun. Colleagues are friendly; administrators far more positive, knowledgeable and helpful than any in my experience; and everywhere there is a sense of building for the future. The streets are clean, children are spoiled (I mean that in the best way!), and -- at least here in the Sichuan area -- the vegetation is lush.

My positive impression began on day 1 when I met the Southwest University Waiban (the administrator who looks after foreign faculty, visitors, and guests), Mr. Wang "Frank" Yougui, at the Fulbright orientation last week in Xiamen:

Optimism for the future begins with the infrastructure. I'm moving into a beautifully refurbished apartment in a week or so, Frank showed me his new office in one of the many comfortable high-rise buildings on campus, and even the computer and printer in my office are new. This investment in education is at every level of detail even with the appearance of older buildings:

Dr. Wang Yong, a young instructor, showed me to my office in Teaching Building Number 9:

Here he is at my office door:

My two classes will be in Teaching Building Number 10, accessed via this pedestrian bridge:

The campus spans several kilometers and slowly I'm figuring out the lay of the steep, terraced land with no straight streets. Students tend to stick to the smooth, paved roads, but I like the by-paths with their often steep steps (It's not called "The Mountain City" for nothin'.):

A Montessori Kindergarten is next door to my temporary apartment (and immediately outside the window of my soon-to-be apartment):

It gets light here about 8 a.m., a weird artifact of the single time zone Mao established for China. Each morning I have my coffee and breakfast to song, as the kindergarten children gather in their courtyard for exercises and singing. It's really delightful and I hope I do not tire of it (or arise hungover some morning):

The college campus is dotted with statuary and stele. Here is some nice engraving at the little park near my apartment:

On a warm afternoon herw, a few students sat talking and reading on the benches while waiting for a few items of laundry to dry:

This professor was an important someone, once disparaged during the Cultural Revolution but now recognized as an intellectual hero:

Water and time smooth all things, and Chairman Mao welcomes students to campus at the main gate:

This old horse seems ready to succumb to the weight of time and the moss growing on its back:

Confucius, though he looks to be the eyes of age, never seems to tire. Like the good professor above, his reputation suffered during the cultural revolution when statues like this one were often toppled or beheaded. There are several statues of Master Kong around campus, but this is my favorite:

In unravelling the lay of this enfolded landscape, it's nice to have many pleasant places to rest. Places like this terraced garden:

Or the many tables and stools/benches in the courtyards around most of the teaching buildings:

These I especially like as an example of art imitating nature:

A steep ravine with a creek runs through campus. There seems to be restoration work going on, I hope it doesn't disturb some of the old walkways and pavilions along the creek bed:

Alas, the old often gets tossed out for the new. A colleague showed me a shortcut to a pedestrian bridge leading to a market area. He told me there were recently homes here, but no one I've asked seems to know what became of the residents or what is to be built here:

Outside of young people on campus, very few local residents seem to have any knowledge of English. Sadly, my knowledge of Mandarin (spoken or written) is nil. This makes bargaining with street vendors an interesting experience. Despite my ignorance, an older woman was very kind in helping me buy a few kilos of her oranges at a very good price (9 oranges for 6 Yuan--about 1 dollar; this, after I gave up in frustration in dealing with several previous vendors). Positively the best oranges I have ever eaten. Unfortunately the Number One orange lady is on the right behind the two guys:

I eat breakfast and sometimes lunch in my apartment, but my main meals are at one of the excellent campus cafeterias. This one is close by and the 2nd floor dining room serves great stir fry selections and dim sum (dumplings) for around 7.50 Yuan. Thankfully, two students practicing their English skills helped me figure out to order, pay, and make the menu selections and I've managed with minimal help since then:

The one (and only) thing I don't like so far is the air quality. You can smell the coal and a fine layer of soot settles over everything outside. If China can solve this problem as it has so many others, it will be an even more amazing place.

3 comments:

Richard Gibson said...

Great way to start my morning, reading these interesting posts. Thanks!

Veronica Wald said...

This is promising to be a very exciting adventure - so glad you are posting again, I will read each installment eagerly!!

Janie said...

It's fascinating to follow your introduction to China. I'm glad you're having a great experience so far.