The famous Beijing wind was blowing last Sunday, making it an easy decision to stay inside and be cozy. I made good progress on the website concept, utilizing China pix for backgrounds, playing with new effects. Met my next door neighbor ZHANG Wei Yong, a post doctorate fellow in the Automation department. He's living here with his 9 or 10 year old son in the 5th grade, a bright and eager looking lad. They were on their way out to get lunch. His wife is living in Shanxxi province.
The wind has blown so hard at times I could hear car alarms go off down in the street. Big and little branches have littered every flat surface. In between gusts people go out, wearing hats, jackets and sometimes masks over their noses and mouths. Children running and playing. Beijingers are used to this and go about as usual, but run for cover when the gusts kick up to 20mph (30km)-- they're not stupid! just hardy.
On Wednesday the campus was crawling with popo. They gradually increased over the past days. Today they barricaded off the old quad and all streets, avenues, footpaths leading to it. Big and small buses and cars with light rigs on top everywhere. Groups of uniformed and plain clothes men in clumps every 50 meters. At least the streets are clear of the free form parking in driving lanes and sidewalk and a lot less traffic. I feel very safe and secure. I found out later we were visited by none other than President Hu Jintao himself--an alum.
Flowers are displayed at every opportunity: cans of blooming annuals: red salvia, yellow marigold, purple (school color) and white petunias, green palms, big standards of blooming bougainvillea in the red-purple school color. Scrubbing and polishing fronts of important buildings and hanging the pretty red lanterns. Hostas are popping up in front of the President's office with day lily and iris foliage. The timing on cutting the grass is interesting. So far they are letting it grow past 3-inches and very green.
I saw the centennial garden for the first time yesterday. The young woman I am working with drove us in her new Nissan. Her husband teaches somewhere in Boston and her high school freshman aged son is with him, going to school there. They skype everyday.
At the garden, the first thing you see is one of those cool grotesque rocks, purchased for the occasion for Y50,000 or $7692. Flanking the beautiful rock are two pinus tablaeformis Chinese red pine, old characters that have been trained for years to that characteristic gaunt, umbrella shape that brings to mind ancient ink drawings on silk, wild-eyed hermits and mist.
The design by a team of Tsinghua landscape architecture students is based on the Chinese character for "people", "ren", which looks like an inverted "V". They chose thirteen species of trees native to China, large landscape specimens 6-inches (15cm) diameter and 20-25-feet (6-7 meters) tall, plus scads of filler material like flowering cherry, crab apple and willow.
Each university president gets a tree with their school name plate. I was happy to see my alma mater represented by a big evergreen pine, one of three possible (pinus bungeana, griffithii or armandii). The four UC campus trees (UCLA, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Davis) are all the same and grouped together like four sages on a little hill. On Saturday at the ceremony I got to meet my university Chancellor Gene Block, Randal Johnson from the the UCLA International Studies Department and also YUAN Si VP of Tsinghua, one of those I had helped polish their speeches. He is Prof boss' boss!
The hardy Bauhinia trees (do not know variety) next to my office building are blooming big panicles of huge blossoms, kind of like a Jacaranda tree but flowers are more white with purple spots and larger. Also the panicles wider and longer at the ends of all the up turned branches and twigs, sweetly fragrant. The village virgins are out collecting twigs off the grass in front of the President's office, reminds me of the summer the Window Box worked at the Hearst place--Wyntoon--in McCloud.
There is a bird near my apartment that makes four short whistles, especially when a wind gust approaches. I only see magpies when I search out the window. Perhaps that is their cry. I am watching some birds-- blue tail and wings with black cap, taupe body, little black chevron on wing and white tip on tail. They are picking things out of the grass where I sit on a stone balustrade over a small stream in the pretty park across the street from Chen's office, acting like robins.
Thursday was a working lunch, over a small table in an intimate setting, nice view to one side of barren hillside turning to spring. Four of us met over plates of fish, two kinds of meat with braised mild chilies, Chinese style western salad, rice, stir fried bamboo shoots and jasmine tea.
Two young students were selected to give an address which they wrote at the garden ceremony because they scored highest in an English speech competition. The girl, Jill, is only a freshman and majoring in Law. The boy, Andrew, is 23 and working on his masters' in Finance. Both confident and good conversationalists. My co-worker from the International office got called away in the midst of lunch by her boss, Prof Boss. We made some improvements to their address and worked through some awkward phrases before she had to run off.
I discovered some more about the way these young people are guided in their choice of major. You see, neither likes their major. But they explained, each student is assigned a major depending on the results of their entrance exam. They both agreed that students selected for architecture were the best students overall, the university requiring top marks in math and science for an Architecture major weighted towards engineering here, not just artsy design.
They both exclaimed with a sigh "how lucky" "hau yun" when I told them I had been an art major. Here at T. art students not only have to score competitively on the entrance exam but also can elect to take a competency test for art in drawing and painting skill. Quite similar to UCLA, actually.
Friday, I'm sitting in the little cafe with chocolate mousse cake and Americano tang nai. I get to relax after an eventful day, not over yet!
This morning James picked me up early and got me downtown before the big popo building was open. I got to stand around in the lobby with others waiting for various official purposes. Only one other group of foreigners, looking anxious and put out. This time I got a very young RCGB (Red Chinese Government Bureaucrat) who speedily stamped my visa extension docs and sent me on my way in ten minutes! I will have to go back next Friday to pick up my passport (hu zhao) at window 18.
Professor Boss' office called while I was downtown, big new speech emergency. James waited for me and brought me back, got to work by 10am! On the way out of the popo building I saw a cherry classic 3-wheeled (cycle with side car) 1940s motorcycle parked in front. I got a picture for you. James tells me it is worth Y10,000 $1500. My son James tells me that there are Soviet era-- that would be 50s-- motorcycles in China, this may be one.
I am reminded that Andrew, from yesterday, told me that the most popular movie genre right now is 1940s Japanese occupation spy stories. This bike looked like it could be in the movies. Maybe the popo chief rode his bike to work today.
Just now thunder and lightening--2 miles away.
Professor Boss arrived at my office and we got right down to polishing. This speech is for one of the PRC (Peoples Republic of China) Vice Premiers, 5-6 pages ASAP word for word. I'm liking this speech. Don't know who wrote it, but the syntax is pretty good--bu tai hui--not too bad. Still we had to break for a quick lunch in the student canteen and rush back to finish. He ran downstairs clutching the pages like the mad hatter.
Between assignments I thought I'd grab a cuppa. Jazz clarinet cooling off the work adrenaline with a fast moving spring shower outside.
At 3pm President Robt Zimmer from University of Chicago was presented with an honorary PhD and gave an interesting lecture on Global Universities. I got a corner front row seat in the big reception hall in the big Soviet Main Building. You should see me pedaling my bike dressed in gray flannel business suit and heeled bootiesIn the rain Is this really happening
It's official now, the Window Box property has closed escrow. Bruce and I are happy to have found a buyer in this depressed real estate market. It stabbed my heart to see the jpg Bruce sent me with the sign painted out. An end of an era.
Hui tou jian