Written by Tran Lam
Today is International Urbanization’s third adventure in Beijing. Stanford’s funding is being well-used for our group! We always leave the hotel at 8:30am and return after 8:30pm. 12 hours or more, all day every day! After more than 36 hours of always staying together and looking out for each other in this gigantic Chinese-speaking metropolis, we have developed a treasurable friendship and a trusting community where one feels comfortable expressing his or her opinions or recounting life experiences.
Here comes a summary of our today’s learning outcomes:
Together with Tsinghua students, we attend a talk of Kevin+Deland about how to be ethical urban scientists, how to empathize and be in the shoes of the local community we study, how to use different creative data-collecting tools/methods that exist in this field, and how to respect and interact with people from different culture. We Stanford students have been learning a lot from the seminar because we attend lectures in the morning and conduct fieldwork in the afternoon. However, language barriers and schedule conflict might have prevented some of the Tsinghua students from harvesting the full potential of the seminar. Nevertheless, it’s been a great experience for us all to work with students from different disciplines and educational systems; these initial interactions might serve as bridges of international relations in the future, who knows!
We have lunch with two Tsinghua students who are extremely kind for letting us use their meal cards. Personally, not being able to have lunch at a Chinese college’s dining hall would make my day a little less exciting. A plate of Hunan-flavored tofu dish served with rice that costs $1 goes a long way! I also enjoy breaking the ice with Chinese students through these delicious meals.
A sub-group of us lingers around Tsinghua to visits April’s female dorm room at Tsinghua. April lives with three other students in a girl’s dorm. It is extremely interesting for us urban scientists to compare and contrast the dormitory systems of America and China. American dorms prioritize individualism and privacy, whereas Chinese dorms specialize in efficiency and roommate camaraderie.
After the dorm visit, some of us went to rent ourselves some bicycles. We the unskilled students rent a bike for 8renminbi/day ($1.2USD)—our friends rent for 5renminbi/day ($0.75). The difference is not significant but the moral of the story is that, “You can bargain in China. It’s a cultural thing.”
Together with Tsinghua students and Kevin+Deland, we visit the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube. They are the two controversial 2008-Olympic landmarks of Beijing (there were evictions and extremely high construction budgets). As an ‘unimportant’ statistic, the Bird’s Nest will take thirty years to pay itself off (The Guardian). Probably one of the positive aspects about the Olympic frenzy of Beijing back in the 2000s is the pedestrian walking street situated between the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. We have a free hour of walking around the park and interestingly, some of us decided to stay in the shades and talk to each other instead of exploring the park. During this conversation, I vaguely learn about Lena’s summer material science research. Lena speaks passionately about how shining light on metal is analogous to the cake’s icing and its plastic container (I told you, I only learned vaguely…). We also get to know a German Tsinghua student well. As you can see, this public space in the costly Olympic park provides a valuable space for human interactions (also arts display too because inexplicit art sculptures are everywhere!); for a bustling, sonder-eliciting city of around 30 millions people like Beijing, public space is very much needed for human’s mental well-beings.
This is our free time. We decide to commute to Wangfuijng, a famous shopping pedestrian street of Beijing that stores international brands like Zara, Cartier, or Burberry. When I walk on this street, I am confused about my current physical location. The intersection with Apple Store and Cartier look extremely international and Western, yet it does not look like any other city (ironically, doesn’t look like Beijing to me too). This geographical confusion strengthens my argument that in terms of architecture, Beijing is a confused hotpot with imperial Forbidden City, traditional Hutongs, traditional Siheyuan, Russian Soviet buildings, various European architectural features, and modernistic/futuristic-looking constructions (with a lot of KFCs, Starbucks, PizzaHut, or McDonalds!).
Yet, hidden away from tourist spots are some few unchanged old alleyways. One of the members of our group, a Stanford student majoring in Urban Studies, and his family were evicted from Wangfujing’s vicinity in 2003. His disappeared house is now a government’s parking lot. But the alleyways around his house, which has his old pre-K, the hospital where he was born, and his favorite milky ice cream, are still unchanged in appearance. Beijing is changing fast, but in some corners of the city, some legacies of the past are still standing, at least for now.
Sources: Branigan, Tania. "Legacy of Beijing Is That Bird's Nest Will Take 30 Years to Pay Off." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.