Winding Down in Linyi

June 28, 2012

As a follow up to my last post, which was rather heavy, I thought I would use my second-to-last night in Linyi to write about more upbeat things and share some pictures of the university and Linyi that were taken this afternoon on a jaunt down to People’s Square and Calligraphy Square (书法广场).

We just had our last dinner together, me and the other two professors.  Lu is leaving tomorrow afternoon for Beijing and then Lanzhou to see her family and reunite with her son before heading back to the States.  John is going to be around for another three-week session, so I will probably see him at some point before I take off.  I have to say that it was really nice having company these past three weeks, such a different experience than it was two years ago.  The company made the time go by much more quickly and made the experience less isolating than it was last time.  Notwithstanding the 9/11 comment, they were both really supportive and interesting to talk to about China, especially given that they both grew up and went to school here before leaving for the States to pursue other opportunities.

At dinner tonight we were talking about our students and the state of education in China.  As I may have already written, the English level of my students is so poor is because English language study is being de-emphasized by the university and simultaneously the standards have been lowered for my program over the last three years.  The reason for these changes is that the last party secretary at the school was kind of a risk-taker and aggressive in his approach to building ties with foreign universities, in no small part due to the fact that he was an academic.  The current party secretary is a career politician and very conservative in how he spends money and expands programs, all done to prevent rocking the boat with the higher-ups.  As I discovered when I was teaching in Guangzhou, there are two parallel administrative structures at all Chinese universities.  On one side is the typical university administration with the president at the top and on the other side is a party structure with the party secretary at the top.  At most universities there is usually some kind of tussle at the top for supremacy.  At the better known schools like Fudan, Tsinghua, and Beijing University, the president has a chance to trump the party secretary because these schools are China’s higher education beacons to the world.  At more regional schools like Linyi University, the party secretary usually calls the shots, which is clearly the case here.  The result of this power struggle is that the students lose because they have less opportunities available to them as their school leaders choose to play it safe.

Unfortunately these kids educations are compromised long before they get to college.  It’s apparently quite common for students in Chinese schools to enroll in weekend tutoring because they are not learning enough in school during the week.  The kicker is that these students enrolled in weekend classes that are taught by the same teachers who are not teaching them during the week and for the privilege to receive additional tutoring from their ineffective teachers, they pay upwards of 500 renminbi (approximately $70) per month, which is a lot of money for families already struggling to get by.  The extra kicker is that it is the bad teacher who suggests the student enroll in this side tutoring and if the parents do not enroll their kid, the teacher will make the student’s classroom life even worse.  On top of all of this, if a parents wants their child to sit in a better seat in school, they have to slip a “tip” to the teacher to make it happen.  This whole scheme is corruption at the most basic level affecting one of the most important parts of society – educating the next generation.  If this goes on in the classroom, imagine the corruption that takes place at every other level of society.

So as promised, here are some pictures of the university campus.

Image

View of main library from my classroom

Image

Image

View across the Beng River (祊河) towards the new part of Linyi

Image

Linyi Public Library by People’s Square

Image

Belles Shopping Plaza, Linyi’s newest mall


Statue of Wang Xizhi (王羲之)
Image

New high-rises going up overlooking Calligraphy Square

Image

Image

Arch at Calligraphy Square honoring Wang Xizhi (王羲之)

Image

 Now it’s almost time for bed and my last day of class, which means it’s time for the final exam.

Advertisements

It’s Father’s Day back in the States and I already called to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day, but sadly I cannot be there with him to celebrate the day.  So I can do the second best thing and heed his wishes by posting some pictures of Linyi to give a sense of how sprawling this city is.

Image

Blue Sky in Linyi

That’s the view facing east from the bridge on Tongda Road (通达路) heading back from the gym last Friday.  The right side of the picture is the southern part of Linyi and heading in the direction of most of the commercial activity in the city.  The left side is north of the river and the new part of the city where the only real tenant is the city government and lots of new apartments.

Image

This view is facing west towards the university and where my hotel is.  As you can see, there are some cranes in the sky and lots of open space.  The university and bus station are the main anchors in this direction, but a lot of ground has been broken for new housing and in a few years there should also be some commercial development to support the population in this part of the city.  Right now though there is nothing to really talk to from the hotel except for the bus station across the street.

Image

This hole in the ground is on the north side of People’s Square (人民广成) and is part of a new shopping center that is called Osca.  I tried to make out the meaning of the name from the Chinese, but was unable to initially.  Right now there is not much in the way of development except for Linyi’s first Subway and a new Korean restaurant, but the mall is supposed to be the home of other foreign retailers from Hong Kong and further afield.  Of course there will also be a residential component to this development.  I guess this would be considered prime real estate in Linyi because People’s Square really is the center of town and on the weekends is filled with people. It’s also where you can find the city’s Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Watsons, the soon-to-be-coming Tesco, and maybe the city’s first Starbucks (this last one is still wishful thinking at this point).  I think of People’s Square as downtown because there are also lots of office towers in the area.

Image

And the Osca mystery is solved – the complex is named after the Oscars, the awards ceremony in the States.  A bit random, but no more random than a local residential development named Chianti Mansion, like the wine.  Though I did not know the Oscars were such a part of the local culture.  But the Chinese word is Aosika (奥斯卡), so it’s not that far off in its Romanized form.  One other thing that I have been thinking about lately are the artist’s renderings of all of the new construction taking place.  That image above is the completed version of the previous picture.  The artist’s renderings always look so opulent and full of life with grand visions of wealth, happiness, and prosperity.  I know these renderings are supposed to be somewhat aspirational, but the Chinese renderings are off the charts in their optimism for the future.  All of the housing developments look absolutely amazing, to the point where I am staring at the dirt field in front of me and wondering how the developers plan to go from nothing to the most amazing and buzzy mixed-use development complex ever.  I saw a lot of this on the bus ride to Qufu in towns much smaller than Linyi, including Feixian, Sishui, and Pingyi.

So those are some recent pictures of Linyi.  I wish I had taken a picture of dinner tonight while we’re on the subject of pictures.  Lu and I went for Sichuan hot pot (火锅) and it was amazing.  I have not had good hot pot since I left GZ many years ago.  This time we went to Little Swan instead of Little Sheep, our GZ go-to.  Little Swan (小天鹅) is a Chongqing-based chain.  Yes, Chongqing is the same city where Bo Xilai, the disgraced party official was mayor.  This meal was perfection – spicy broth cooking a variety of meat and vegetables. as well as noodles and rice cakes.  I don’t think a picture would have done it justice.  I came back to the hotel and looked up the name of the chain and of course Sequoia Capital, a U.S. private equity firm has taken a stake in the company.  I guess the good news is that perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we get one in New York.  There is already a Little Sheep (小肥羊) in Flushing, Queens, so why not a Little Swan somewhere in Manhattan?

On that note, I leave you all to gear up for week two of class.  Happy Father’s Day, dad.  Until next time . . .

 .

Shanghai’ed, Part I

September 29, 2008

 
 
 

View from Starbucks
View from Starbucks in Renmin Square
One side of the street . . .
One side of the street . . .

I’m of course sitting in a Starbucks, this one in Shanghai (上海) on the north side of Renmin Square (人民广场), and I’m sitting outside. This part of the square is quite pleasant large grassy areas, winding paths, and benches along the way. It’s also really quiet. The only sign that you’re sitting in the middle of a city of nearly 17 million people is the large skyscraper punctuating the skyline. And yes, I am back in Shanghai after last being here eight years ago when I was living in Hong Kong. This time, I am visiting my friend Santiago, who is working here on a project with his company for the next six months. I have wanted to come back here for the longest time because this is a city that seems to change every six months, so you can imagine that in eight years it has completely transformed itself into a different place. It’s even more of a contrast coming here from GZ, which is kind of rough around the edges and makes no bones about it. Shanghai, on the other hand, feels like a city that wants to put its best foot forward and will do whatever it needs to do to make a good impression. What’s amazing is that it has done an incredible job of presenting itself. I hardly recognize the city. The sidewalks are clean, the sky is blue, the architecture is amazing, and there are so many interesting alleys and side streets to explore. I’ve only been able to read about Shanghai over the years and all of the articles and pictures gave the impression that this city is one on the go and being here only confirms that feeling. So many of the old buildings are either being torn down to make way for skyscrapers or the old buildings are being gentrified to the point of being nearly unrecognizable or impossibly tacky. I just keep snapping pictures to show the many contrasts that seem to exist in this city. And as I said before, compared to GZ, Shanghai really feels polished around the edges. I tend to judge cities based on the energy they exude and how they handle exogenous cultures. This judgment comes in two parts. First, what energy can be felt on the streets of a particular city? Cities can buzz with creativity, cranes and new construction, confidence, or some combination of these things. Most cities of the world have some type of feeling, but very few exude a sense of purpose and direction as they move forward. The second criterion pertains to how cities react to outside cultural influences. Most cities of the world have their own indigenous cultures, but are usually powerless to stop the onslaught of outside cultural forces. Bangkok, Thailand has many temples and its utter

. . . and the other side of that same street, a contrast between old and new Shanghai

. . . and the other side of that same street, a contrast between old and new Shanghai

chaos is part of its charm, but it does not have an energy and force that allows it to bend outside cultural influences by giving them a Thai dimension. Of all of the cities that I have been to in my life, there are only a few that seem to have some elements of these two criteria. London, New York, and Tokyo are the three that readily come to mind. Some may argue that there are many other cities like Mexico City, Hong Kong, Paris, and others that should be included, but these cities are unique in their supreme confidence that they will progress. And now I must add Shanghai to that list because this city is one that appears unstoppable. But enough with the superlatives and accolades, at least for now.

 

After arriving late yesterday afternoon and hopping on the 925 bus from Hongqiao, which only cost me four kuai (approximately US$0.70) and dropped me off five minutes from my friend’s hotel, we went for some great Hunan food (湘菜) at Gu Yi  . Then it was off to an opening party for a new bar called Lingo, which is supposed to be a space where Chinese people can come and practice their English and imbibe while they’re at it. I met some of Santiago’s friends there and we enjoyed vodkas with apple juice, something I have never had in the States, but which turned out to be okay, if only a little too sweet for my tastes. Those who have been out drinking with me know that I like my drinks as sugarless as possible. After that, we decided to check out the gay bars of Shanghai. We went to one place called Shanghai Style, which was located at the end of an alley and in the basement of a very non-descript building. Once inside, the bar is actually a series of small rooms with multiple bars and a dance floor. Apparently because of the National Holiday, it was a slow night because a lot of people had to work on Sunday so they could take off Monday or Tuesday of this week. The crowd was a mix of Chinese and Western guys, but what was most interesting was the stratification of the crowd. It was either Chinese guys talking with Chinese guys, Chinese guys talking with Western guys, or the few Western guys talking to each other. This stratification became more pronounced at the next bar we went to, which was located closer to the river in an area of town where they are demolishing and rebuilding everything. This space was much larger, but it was the same mix. It’s odd for me to go into a bar and make distinctions based solely on ethnicity. There were guys there would not speak to me because I was not Chinese, which is something I am definitely not used to experiencing. I guess for a certain group of gay men who come to Asia, this desire is part of their reason for being here. But it definitely shortchanges the idea of taking the whole person into account before deciding whether you are attracted to them or not, at least versus sizing them up solely on their ethnicity. It’s not even based on general attractiveness, but something more specific. Anyway, I digress. We spent an hour or so at this other bar and then decided to call it a night.

Today, after nursing some mild hangovers, we decided to treat ourselves and went for an overpriced brunch at the Four Seasons. Then we spent the day roaming the streets of what used to be the French Concession, which is now filled with cute boutiques and cafes, as well as old homes and gardens. After that, we headed over to the Old City, which is the location of the original walled city. The walls are long gone and construction is everywhere, but you can pay 40 kuai and wander through Yu Yuan, a large garden built during the Ming Dynasty in 1559 that belonged to Pan Yunduan, an administration commissioner of Sichuan Province.

Part of Yu Yuan

Part of Yu Yuan

The weather was absolutely incredible. Bright blue skies with temperatures in the upper 70s. It was perfect weather for just wandering around. Shanghai is a great walking city. It seems really spread out, but a lot of the sights are within walking distance from Renmin Square, which is the center of the west side of the city. For those who have never been to Shanghai, the city is divided by the Huangpu River. The western side is called Puxi for “West of the Huangpu” and the eastern side is called Pudong, for “East of the Huangpu”. Puxi used to be the only side of the river that was developed, but in the early 90s, the government decided to build up Pudong and turn it into a financial center. The result is a lot of impressive skyscrapers, but Pudong never developed the same charm that exists in Puxi, which is partly due to its lack of any real history. Before the massive surge of construction, the area was mainly rice paddies and villages. So we did a lot of walking today, which was good after chowing down on an all-you-can-eat buffet brunch.

And the new construction across from the Yu Yuan Bazaar made to look like the old buildings

And the new construction across from the Yu Yuan Bazaar made to look like the old buildings

 
Yu Yuan Market, the old side of the street

Yu Yuan Market, the old side of the street

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With one more day here, there will be more to tell about my Shanghai travels.