Today is my final day of work, a slightly strange feeling after 10 weeks of following the same daily routine. It’s going to be sad saying goodbye to everybody, although to make it a little easier I bought in moon cakes for everyone (moon cakes are used to celebrate a festival that happened a couple of weeks ago). Unfortunately this has meant spending most of the day fending off Ben’s raids on my bag. He’s already a little ‘solid’, and as moon cakes are made with large amounts of lard, I can’t imagine that they will do him any good although I suspect they are amazing hiking food, a hypothesis to be tested in the coming weeks.
Last week was fairly uneventful, and mainly centred around handing over all my work. This left me fairly free towards the end of the week, allowing me to carefully plan my talk to the University students. This went surprisingly well, although I had slightly more responsibility than I was happy with. The promised 60 students didn’t all turn up, although with about 40 girls and 5 blokes there I did feel a bit like a Mech Eng’er in a Psychology seminar (James, I can see why you changed courses). The students seemed to drift off a bit as I spoke, although I think that British students would have done much the same if they were told to go to a lecture on a Saturday morning at the beginning of term. I also know that they couldn’t understand a lot of what I was saying. Much more used to American English that British, I was probably not the best person to give the talk. Ben frequently informs me that I have a big tongue, which is why I can’t speak Chinese properly, and I think it sometimes hampers my English as well.
I think the students that could follow found the talk informative, although the level of attention paid was a little disturbing. One area that I had been asked to cover was applying for a job with a Western company. Attempts to suggest that they wrote a passage on their CV that would put across their personality, as well as their academic experience reached an impasse when they asked what they should write to get their personality across. Apparently this desire for guidance on all matters is one of the things that makes it hard for Ford to recruit the type of candidate they are looking for. It seems to be a very traditional part of Chinese culture, and as far as I understand stems largely from the principles of Confucianism, from where it has been continued by the Communist party.
The University itself was a bizarre mix of similarities and juxtapositions to English student life. The atmosphere was very similar, with students sitting round in the sun, relaxing and smiling. The newer lecture theatres were almost indistinguishable from those at Birmingham , with very similar facilities. However the lifestyle seems to be quite different. All students (even arts ones) have about 20 hours of lectures a week, with the emphasis placed on knowledge rather than the ability to apply it. There is no bar on campus, nor are there any in the surrounding area, although apparently Chongqing ‘s main student area in the Northwest does have the necessary facilities.
Students stay in dormitories, with 4 people in a room. The newer blocks are fairly spacious, with a desk under a bunk bed for each student. The older blocks are a little more basic, with 4 students sharing two small desks, and sleeping in bunk beds. When asked if they thought that people would stop living like this as China became more prosperous, their answer was simply that there isn’t enough room for people to live any other way. This says a lot about China , and partly explains why it’s such a fun country to travel in. Geographical considerations have forced people to live in close proximity to each other for so long, that the national attitude has been forced to become tolerant and laid back. Of course there are still arguments on the street, and these erupt into violence occasionally, but the cause is usually something far above what a westerner would normally feel is grounds for an argument.
The weekend also gave me a chance to visit Hongyan, the propagandatastic seat of government during WWII. It was interesting to see the wartime photos of a flattened Chongqing , Japanese bombers flying frequent raids to attempt to disrupt communications. Unfortunately very little of the historical detail had been translated into English, so most of it remains a mystery to me, but the propaganda panels were quality. I got told of for taking photos of them, although I don’t really know why. Perhaps they don’t want their claims about Mao’s drive to install democracy into China to become too widely seen. The ‘Chongqing Anti-Japanese and Progressive Opera’ section must have contained many cultural highlights, but as none of this was in English I couldn’t tell you. The photos certainly seemed random enough to go with the title.
The week also brought leisure as well as educational time. A trip to the ice skating rink allowed me to perfect the ‘see how fast you can go, overtake a pretty girl, fall over and slide a long way’ manoeuvre, much to the amusement of the watching crowd.
After about 8 weeks of planning to go, we also finally made it to the waterpark, although unfortunately for some reason that I don’t understand nobody wanted to go during the heat of the day, preferring to wait until evening fell which meant no sun tan, and having to stay submerged to avoid the cool night air (although it was still about 24 degrees).
Tomorrow I set off round the western parts of China , which should be dramatically different to what I have seen so far. I’ve heard lots of tales of roads hacked into the edges of cliffs, so if nothing else it should be exciting. I’ll try and send highlights as I travel around, but obviously it’s going to largely depend on the availability of internet cafes.