Friday, March 30, 2007

NUAA in the evening


The campus here is filled with tree-lined avenues, that create a warm soft roof to walk under in the evening, and a sunshade for the hot days. Each tree forks into a V-shape, and over the years they've grown leaning toward the sun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nanjing Presidential Palace

Nanjing's Presidential Palace is a beautiful historic site. Nanjing was the capital of China for a long time, around five dynasties if memory serves, and so of course its seat of power is the location of many historic events. It's also rather plush.

Rulers and residents have included Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the Japanese (when attempting a coup with the puppet Emperor - around the time of the rape of Nanjing), the rebel (and probably insane) Taiping Heavenly King Hong Xiuquan, the Kuomintang, and the People's Liberation Army. The site is now the location of China's Modern History Museum.

The entrace across from the main courtyard is supported by tall red pillars. Lanterns hang under the roof.

Many officals' offices are unused, and kept in a traditional layout.

The roofs are fantastically detailed in bright colours.

There are many small courtyards, between rooms and corridors.

A very heavily ornamented seat, in a throne room.

Lamps are inset into the ceilings at regular intervals.

A stone carving of a dragon, mounted in a wall.

Here is another office in traditional style. The furniture here is still manufactured and easy to buy, so it's probably not antique (and maybe not even historically accurate).

An irregularly shaped set of shelves for mounting ornaments. They still make these, too; squares feature heavily in Chinese woodcraft and construction, and this irregular style is moderately easy to find.

In the east garden.

A view from a pier in the east garden, overlooking a pond.

The east garden pond.

A reflection in the east garden pond. Poets describe good water as being "green" in Chinese history (obviously not for drinking!)

Carp in the west pool. Almost every lake at a scenic area in China has carp!

The entrance to the rock garden in the west wing of the palace.

Many things at the presidential palace are extravagant. This wall has a sinuous line with complex tiling on top.

The rock garden in the west wing.

A stone boat, in the west pool. This is a copy of a larger and older stone boat in Beijing. The inside of the boat is furnished for entertaining.

Information at NJAU
Official site

Monday, March 19, 2007

Blue Dragonfly Puke


So is the puke blue, or the dragonfly? This is the cover to a deck of playing cards. Note the manufacturer - I've heard of a niche industry but that really takes the biscuit!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Efficient water storage

Water storage heaters
Water storage heaters

Large shiny water tanks litter the roofs of Chinese "suburbia". These great little devices are a side offect of the small size of a residence, which often leaves as much as possible outside the windows or doors or even on the roof, and also a great way of boosting efficiency and keeping bills down. It's hard to buy non-energy saving bulbs, and public transport is always packed, as are the cycle lanes. This may be a polluted country, but the people are often much less damaging to their immediate environments than their western counterparts.

Water heater
The large square connecting the tank to the roof is full of small, thin pipes. These help circulate heat and cover a large surface area, ensuring that water is warmed by the sun.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Victim of theft

I've been the victim of bicycle theft!

Well, not quite. They opened the lock, and then decided that the most valuable thing they could take wasn't my trusty, solid and speedy bike, but the actual lock (which in fairness did cost £1). So they left the bike. Now I have no bikelock. Buggers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

First Date

Today I held a lesson on first dates.

This kind of topic is bound to result in some kind of awkwardness among Chinese students. The minimum age for marriage here is 22 for men and 20 for women, and I'd estimate that around 80% to 90% of my first- and second- year university students are virgins. Half of the younger generation still holds traditional values of no sex before marriage; the other half is adamant that it does not!

Even middle schools have rules such as "don't fall in love" (as well as "don't hold birthday parties" and "don't form a clique"). Making kissy noises is still a fantastic way of cracking the class up and embarrassing any poor victims (aka students) who happen to be showing affection toward members of the opposite sex. Making the students sit boy-girl-boy-girl works wonders for making them concentrate on the class; they're too embarrassed to do anything else! I try to break down this gender barrier as much as possible - after all, Mao Zedong stated women should be treated as equal to men, so I'm not worried about repercussions - it's annoying how it's even noticeable!

Anyway, back to this morning. When brainstorming for words and phrases about "A first date", interesting suggestions came back. As well as the usual stuff that you'd expect - "romantic, shy, exciting, nervous" and so on - there were things like "worried about money" (fair), "expecting to receive a gift" (fair, although only girls thought this mattered) "expecting a kiss" (this just from the boys) which were a little off the beaten track.

Then we had the good ones. "Morose" was listed, and apparently means, "when the girl is not satisfied after the date"; also, with an utterly serious and deadpan face, a small academic-looking girl ventured the idea that a first date may be "sweaty".


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Carp pool at Heilongtan, Kunming

We went to Heilongtan, a beautifully calm Daoist temple in the outskirts of Kunming. One thing they had was a carp pool. This in itself is barely worth mention - every tourist site in China worth its salt has a large pool of carp, and a sleeping person who will sell you a modestly sized bag of special fish food for a kuai or two. Anyway, there were loads here, and they were all very greedy fish. We decided to empty a whole bag into the pool, far away from where everyone else was feeding the fish, and film the results! Like chickens, fish are attracted to others who are eating, and seem to be able to detect it from quite far away - just look at the video!

Military training

All Chinese university students have the first 4-6 weeks of their tuition off from lessons. Instead, they are trained by the Chinese army, using university ground and facilities. Uniforms are provided, as well as weapons. Training begins at around 7.00-7.30am, and finished at 5pm, with an hour or two for funch. Training activities include, in no particular order: marching on the spot, sitting in a grid on the ground for two hours, sweating, rifle usage, marching backwards, and my favourite, breaking from marching in formation into a disorderly rabble of 18 year old students.

My first impression was that this was really unusual - education and "defence" are usually considered fairly separate activities in the cultures I've previously seen. Indeed, often there at odds with each other - you can either get educated, or failing that, maybe go into the military! Here, you may miss military training if you don't get into university (which is incredibly hard here). Even first-year Finance students have military theory lessons. However, China manages to allocate a lot less than some countries to defence - officially 1.35% of GDP, and unofficial guesses say no higher than 3%.

The whole process (compulsory for both men and women) is conducted under a roasting early September sun, and fainting girls are not uncommon. As with every school, it usually takes about 4 other girls to accompany a fainting one to water, and for boy, at least 2 extra are required. Students don't really state much of an opinion on military training. The whole process culminates in a weekend parade in front of higher-ranking officers.

Without further ado - pictures and videos!

Repurposed playing field:

Getting into formation - there must be hundreds of students on this small field:

Military is in green, watch out for jeans and adidas trainers:

Rifle practice:

Very pointy toes:

Walking backwards, and girls in a separate group:

Turn into a rabble:

Saturday, March 10, 2007


China is under construction. Every street corner that you visit has a new building underway, with older houses being ripped down to make room for another enormous skyscraper. Nanjing used to be home to China's tallest building, the Jinling hotel, in 1990, with around 18 floors. Now, that honour falls to the Jin Mao tower in Pu Dong (Shanghai), which is also the fourth tallest building in the world; they're building what will be the world's tallest building just around the corner, too, due in late 2007.

Jin Mao tower
More than eighteen stories..

The Chinese are no slowcoaches when it comes to building, either. A pair of 20-storey apartment blocks were erected and occupied within 10 weeks of moving here. My university (NUAA) created an exhibition building and a modern arts centre inside one month when news of an inspection came. Over the road from the uni, there's an enormous development that didn't exist when we arrived, and is almost finished, which could house tens of thousands of people. It's simply phenomenal!

New buildings
New apartments - 2 months from flat ground to inhabitation.

Jiangning campus new buildings
New university buildings - 1 month from flat ground.

Residential complex
New apartments opposite university - now complete; took 6 months to build residences for 30,000 people. If you visit this area on Google maps, you can see that the upside-down-L shaped area they occupy is nothing but brown dirt with a few shacks.

This rapid rate of development is courtesy of the millions of workers who migrate from the poorer countryside into the cities, to earn money for their families. They often save money by living inside the incomplete building sites, sleeping inside makeshit tents of hammocks. It's really impressive and practical.

Traditional Chinese scaffolding is still used on most sites less than six or seven stories high; instead of bolting together tubes of cast iron, a much less expensive, lighter, and equally durable material is used - bamboo! This used to be used for buildings of all different sizes, but now larger constructions tend to go for metal scaffolds. A very shiny and tall hotel building in Hong Kong was built using solely bamboo supports in during the 1990s.
Bamboo scaffolding
Bamboo scaffolding at night

Side effects of a booming construction trade can also been seen everywhere - the pavements are often occluded by building supports, or even huge piles of raw building materials, and there's a plethora of different kinds of construction vehicles on the roads.
Building materials
Cable reels

Cement mixers are common, as are huge 20-tonne overladen 12-wheel trucks full of dirt zooming in an out of town. The city's streets are coated in construction dust, which gets everywhere, especially when the city's dry! This doesn't appear to affect the locals much, though the Chinese culturally consider the floor to be an extremely dirty thing, that you wouldn't rest your bag on even for a second.