I recently taught at Zhejiang Normal University (ZJNU) in Jinhua, China for three weeks and tried my best to keep a diary of my time there. My writing became more sporadic the longer I was there, but I did take loads of pictures. I’ll share everything worth sharing over the next few weeks. Below is the first entry.
Today was my first full day in Jinhua, and thanks to the professor with whom I will be teaching, I got to see some of the campus and surrounding community. The professor’s name is Tao, but like most Chinese people I have met, he has an English name, which is Chris. I first met him during a very brief visit to the university back in March, and it took about an hour for us both to realize we were going to be fast friends.
Chris earned his PhD from Beijing Film Academy, which any film studies academic can tell you is terribly impressive. It’s on par with an American engineer with a degree from MIT. I mean, the period of film history called the Chinese Fifth Generation, the defining period in all of Chinese cinema, is so named after the fifth class of graduates to come out of Beijing Film Academy, and it is notoriously difficult to get into. Yet he is totally unassuming and one of the most generous people I have met. Quite a person.
Chris took me for coffee and we discussed the lectures I would give. It was very helpful and made me feel much less nervous about teaching the next day. When he heard that no one from ZJNU had set me up with a meal card or shown me around, he seemed a little miffed. He called someone from the international office and made sure they’d set me up with a card tomorrow. They had already requested it, but the place isn’t open on Sundays. So he took me to the North Gate area and explained a few things.
North Gate (or Béimen in pinyin) is one of four gates that border the campus. (Bet you can guess what the others are called.) But when people use the phrase Béimen they are usually referring to the neighborhood surrounding the actual gate. Half of it, on one side of the gate, is on university property, but the rest of it is Jinhua property. Altogether, though, this area is the lifeblood of the non-academic ZJNU experience.
If you swivel around the other way, you get the view on the left. The fruit vendors were out in force that day, and we tried litchi and yangmei. I liked them both, so Chris bought me some. They became my breakfast for the next few days.
North Gate is constantly busy, teeming with life, loud, and chaotic. I loved it. The energy there is amazing. And you can buy just about anything in these little shops. I’m not a fan of mysterious meat served on sticks, but if that’s your thing, you’d love it here, too.
Here is a view of the ZJNU side of the North Gate neighborhood.
A view of North Gate from the second story of the row of shops.
Another view of North Gate from the second story. Notice the big tree at the end of the row in the middle of the street. Everybody calls this “the big tree” (I didn’t learn that phrase in Mandarin, sorry.) If you want to meet up with someone, you usually say you’ll meet at the big tree. It didn’t strike me until I started writing this post that I didn’t get a good picture of the tree.
One last view of North Gate. Note all of the scooters. Most of them are electric, and they are everywhere on the ZJNU campus. I took this photo in the middle of the day, which is why there aren’t many people. It gets very hot in the middle of the day, and campus usually clears out. It’s a shame, because on a busier day this whole street would be filled with students – and all of the female students would be shading themselves with parasols. Umbrellas/parasols are not just functional here, they are a very important fashion accessory. It always makes for a charming view.
After we had wandered around for a while, Chris took me to one of the campus canteens where faculty, staff, and students can use their university cards to pay for meals, and he bought me lunch since I didn’t have mine yet. Then he gave me his card to use until I got my own card. The following day, he gave me one of his old phones to use while I’m in China. Like I said, quite a person.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what yangmei, the fruit I mentioned, looks like, here is a photo. They are delicious. Both these and litchis are native to the region and fairly important to their agricultural industry and daily diet. I will always associate my time at ZJNU with the taste of these gorgeous little fruits.