How the Other Half Live

I made a foray into the enemy campus today. After three days of blue skies there is no longer a trace of Wednesday’s deep snow dump and the cherry blossoms along our canal are resolutely set for spring. The lakes have fully defrosted and the ornamental landscape around the more beautiful of the two, shielded from the roads by rockery-covered hills, was crowded with people taking photos of each other.

However the grass is definitely greener at Peking University and despite not making the Forbes most beautiful campuses list it works for me. It has the cutesy small scale charm of Cambridge to Tsinghua’s more Oxford city feel with its classical charms dispersed over a larger and more businesslike, no-nonsense campus.

Founded in 1898, Beida also has a Qing dynasty garden rolled into the northern boundary featuring a massive lake overlooked by a pagoda and surrounded by meticulously balanced trees and glades. The few isolated old buildings in that section are rather forlorn although they still seem to have some function as teaching rooms. The university’s newest buildings are on the east side of the campus: the granite and glass Guanghua School of Management and neighbouring Nanotechnology Building which was receiving finishing touches as I passed. The area was a bit soulless compared with the more southerly heart where students teem around the main buildings and dorm areas.

The Beida guards have similar air of officiousness to Oxbridge porters; sentries in olive green polyester uniforms check IDs and turn people back from the gates. Thankfully they didn’t scrutinise my student card closely enough to realise it was for the wrong uni and waved me through, much to the bemusement of a group beside me given I had Tsinghua scrawled all over my hoodie. Overhearing them I shrugged and said “They’ll let anyone in” at which they laughed and started to have a friendly conversation about foreigners among themselves as though I weren’t there and didn’t speak Chinese.

I presume we must have similar in Tsinghua but I noticed a lot more banners advertising upcoming lectures. One particularly grabbed me: Corporate Responsibility and Value Leadership, due to be given tomorrow afternoon by Dr Klaus Leisinger from Basel University’s sociology faculty. A topic providing further evidence of how the focus of society and the economy is changing, though I wonder if the fact that he comes from the sociology department makes it less contentious than if he were from politics or economics.

Stuck all over the banners were advertisements for part time work: “English Teaching Assistant £15/day+bonus”, “Transcriber £1-3 per sheet; Leafletter £3/hour”, “Mobile phone sales promoter £12-15/day”, “Samsung mobile phone sales promotion £8/day; Samsung electronic goods sales promotion £10/day; Samsung smartphone salesperson £14/day; and Samsung Mobile Etiquette, girls only, £22/day”.

Our first lesson in conversation class concerned students’ part time work options so I was v chuffed to see the job market in action, not to mention have proof that the course content is relevant. Sales promotion is standing and pushing sales at customers – not really so common in the UK now except maybe in a department store’s cosmetics department – and is pretty hard work, hence the higher salaries. I suppose a mobile phone etiquette dolly bird is the Debby McGee of mobile phones: there to give demos and emphasise attractive features. The best paid was for hostesses at concerts at the Bird’s Nest who get £30 for the day. An absolute fortune but I’m ineligible: only girls over 168cm tall need apply.

I made my way back along the main highway and stopped to watch a chef in the bakery window put icing on top of a cake. I had a guessing game with the two young chaps who had been watching when I arrived. It started off looking like a white seal but as I left we agreed it was probably a rabbit. I do enjoy that I can stand outside a bakery discussing cake decorations with total strangers here and no one seems to find it odd.

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